Spring Fever

Peter Targos, Staff writer


Chicago Cubs
Courtesy of Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs are rebuilding. Anyone watching the Cubs that doesn’t realize that is either drinking too much Cubs Kool-Aide or has been hanging out with Ronnie Woo Woo too much. It is clear that President Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer have a plan to turn the woeful Cubs around. The question is: How long until the Cubs are actually competitive again? How long until they are playing baseball in October consistently, like Epstein and Hoyer vowed they would be one day?
The general consensus is that the Cubs will be bad for another two years. By then, the albatross contract of Left Fielder Alfonso Soriano will be off the books. Soriano, who signed an eight-year, $136 million in November 2006, has been the definition of a bust. Yes, Soriano had a “good year” last year (.262 batting average, 32 home runs, 108 RBIs), but it wasn’t overly helpful to the Cubs’ season. Whether it’s his inability to stay on the field, not hitting with runners in scoring position, not hustling, or his embarrassing defense, Soriano has left management and Cubs fans shaking their heads and wondering why former GM Jim Hendry ever signed him. In Soriano’s defense, he has dealt with boo’s and criticism like a professional, where other players in the past have not, i.e. Todd Hundley and Milton Bradley, but there are other glaring problems with this team besides Soriano.
Starter Matt Garza has also not lived up to expectations since arriving in Chicago in a deal from Tampa Bay in the fall of 2010. Garza, who was thought to be the ace of the Cubs pitching rotation, has had trouble staying on the field. In two years as a Cub, Garza has gone 15-17, starting only 49 games in 301.2 innings. That averages to 150.6 innings pitched. Look at any ace and they easily exceed pitching 150.6 innings in one year.
After deciding not to retain Aramis Ramirez at the end of the 2011 season, Epstein decided to trade Right Fielder Tyler Colvin and Third Baseman DJ Lehmahieu to the Colorado Rockies for Ian Stewart. This proved to be one of Epstein’s worst moves. Stewart ended up hitting .212, with five HRs and 17 RBIs, before undergoing season ending wrist surgery. The other option at third base, Luis Valbuena, is not much better. Valbuena, who was claimed off the waivers by the Cubs on April 4, got called up to the major league team on June 14. After the Stewart injury, Valbuena was given the starting job by Manager Dale Sveum. While Valbuena got off to a hot start, his flaws were quickly exploited, and he ended the season hitting .219, with four HRs and 28 RBIs.
While there are numerous other problems with this team, do not think the Cubs are completely useless. The Cubs infield (besides third base) will be one of the team’s strength this year. At shortstop there is 22-year-old All-Star Starlin Castro. Castro was called up to the major league team in 2010 and has improved offensively each year. Already a two-time All-Star, it is scary to think what Castro (.283, 14 HRs, 78 RBIs, 25 stolen bases) can amount to.
At second base stands Darwin Barney, the 2012 Golden Glove recipient. Barney is a grind-it-out type of player who hustles and has high baseball IQ, something many of his teammates lack. At first base is fan favorite Anthony Rizzo, who has not even played a full year of major league baseball yet. Rizzo quickly made an impact in the Cubs lineup and appears to have ingredients to be a star and team leader in years to come.
Even the catcher is a strength for the team. After embarrassing themselves last year with Geavony Soto and Triple AAA wannabe Koyie Hill, the Cubs upgraded the position with prospect Wellington Castillo and veteran backup Dinoer Navarro. Castillo showed, in limited at bats, that if given the opportunity he can be an everyday catcher—albeit if he improves defensively. Navarro, is a solid backup who can provide Castillo with a needed off day and should play a leadership role for Castillo and the rest of the team.
However, as stated before, the Cubs have more holes in their team than Woo Woo did before he got his teeth fixed. While the team will not embarrass themselves and the city of Chicago like they did last year by losing 101 games, they will still be less than stellar. With all these holes, a 73-89 record sounds about right. Hey, there’s always next year…