But what do Theo’s moves mean for the club in 2012?
They’ll be competitive and fun to watch…but don’t expect a division title just yet.
Gone are the Carlos Zambrano blowups. Don’t expect the lackluster effort that was typically seen with Mike Quade’s squad. But besides that, what else is there to expect?
The Cubs will be competitive this year. A large part is due to the NL Central losing its top three players in Albert Pujols (LAA), Prince Fielder (TBD) and Ryan Braun (50-game suspension). The Pirates showed improvement last year, but aren't front-running this year. And the Cincinnati Reds regressed last season to the surprise of many.
The starting rotation includes Matt Garza, at least for the start of the season. While there are no aces on the staff following Garza, Ryan Dempster, Chris Volstad, Paul Maholm and either Travis Wood or Randy Wells are serviceable starters.
One of the most troubling aspects of the Cubs season last year was their inability to field the ball, rating last place in fielding percentage. Expect new manager Dale Sveum to address that situation immediately.
The biggest question looms offensively. Bryan LaHair replaces Carlos Pena (TB) at first base. Ian Stewart is taking over for the Cubs best offensive player in Aramis Ramirez at third. David DeJesus is expected to man right field, replacing Tyler Colvin and Kosuke Fukudome.
Where will the Cubs finish in the NL Central in 2012?
Stewart was formerly a highly-touted prospect with the Colorado Rockies, but injuries hindered his production. A fresh start and competition with Josh Vitters may be exactly what both players need to rejuvenate their careers, as Vitters has struggled in the minors after being the Cubs first-round pick in 2007.
Although I fully expect them to be competitive, I don’t know how many wins will come as a result of the competitiveness. And that’s okay.
The Cubs won’t be in World Series talks until at least 2014, which means there are still moves to be made from the front office.
Epstein and Hoyer are making the right move holding onto Garza until the trade deadline. The Detroit Tigers are rumored to be in heavy pursuit, but they are reluctant to deal top prospect Jacob Turner. It should come as no surprise that teams are more willing to deal top prospects in the heat of a pennant race than the beginning of the year.
The future of Alfonso Soriano is also up in the air as teams may be looking for a designated hitter in the American League and the Cubs look to rid themselves of his expensive contract.
And with top prospect Brett Jackson appearing Major League-ready, is Marlon Byrd the Cubs center fielder on August 1st?
Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes is also on Epstein’s radar, as he has personally attended Cespedes’ games while the outfielder awaits word on his residency.
With many players getting new opportunities, others fighting for a starting job or some displaying their talents for other teams, expect the Cubs to play hard each and every day, which is half the battle in a 162-game season.
The Cubs are better than the 71-91 team that took the field last year, but the talk of winning a division is premature.
But the fact of the matter is the Cubs are still at least a year or two away from the top of the NL Central. A star like Starlin Castro, and the excitement and foundation brought by Theo Epstein, is enough to stay tuned.