Chicago Cubs 2009 Offseason: Has The Team Improved?

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Chicago Cubs 2009 Offseason: Has The Team Improved?

On Monday, the Cubs inked Milton Bradley to a three-year deal in what is the latest of a flurry of offseason moves by GM Jim Hendry.  With the addition of Bradley, the Cubs' lineup takes on a slightly different feel.  Below is a quick look.

Lineup A:

SS Ryan Theriot

LF Alfonso Soriano

1B Derrek Lee

3B Aramis Ramirez

RF Kosuke Fukudome

2B Mark DeRosa

C Geovany Soto

CF Felix Pie

P Carlos Zambrano

CL Kerry Wood

Bench: Daryle Ward, Reed Johnson, Mike Fontenot, Henry Blanco, Ronny Cedeno

Lineup B:

LF Alfonso Soriano

SS Ryan Theriot

1B Derrek Lee

3B Aramis Ramirez

RF Milton Bradley

C Geovany Soto

2B Mike Fontenot

CF Kosuke Fukudome

P Carlos Zambrano

CL Carlos Marmol

Bench: Daryle Ward (I'd prefer Micah Hoffpauir), Reed Johnson, Aaron Miles, Paul Bako, Joey Gathright

If you're a Chicago Cubs fan, you know Lineup A is from Opening Day 2008.  After Monday's signing of outfielder Milton Bradley, Lineup B is my projection for Lou Piniella's team for the 2009 season (against a right-handed starter). 

Looking at these two lineups, after all their recent offseason maneuvers, is the current version of the Cubs an improvement at all from the team swept in the 2008 NLDS? 

OFFENSE

In the starting lineup, Felix Pie and Mark DeRosa have been replaced by Milton Bradley and Mike Fontenot.  Bradley is clearly an upgrade to Reed Johnson/Jim Edmonds/Felix Pie at the plate, and can switch-hit, but defensively the drop is much more significant. 

As everyone under the sun has noted, Bradley has rarely ever played over 100 games in the field, and his health concerns are a large liability.  Fontenot provides Piniella with a nice left-handed alternative in the lineup, but the versatility lost in the field by trading DeRosa is enormous. 

I know, I know, that's where the bench comes in.  Aaron Miles can play 2B, SS, 3B (kind of), and OF. Reed Johnson and Joey Gathright can play multiple outfield positions, but Ward (or Hoffpauir) and Bako are one-position guys.  Defensively, the bench is very similar to 2008, but offensively it has dropped. 

Sure Aaron Miles hit .315 last year, but that's the only time he has hit above .300 in his career (not including his 4-for-12 season with the White Sox in 2003).  Last season was Joey Gathright's first above 100 games played, and he has also only hit above .300 once in his career (2007). 

Paul Bako previously played for the Cubs, and he is no Hank White, I can tell you that.  Bako's career batting average is .231, with a career high of .272 way back in 1998.

PITCHING

2008 Starting Rotation - Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Ryan Dempster, Rich Hill, Jason Marquis

2009 Starting Rotation - Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, Ryan Dempster, Rich Harden, Jeff Samardzija / Sean Marshall

So before you think I'm all negative, the starting rotation has clearly improved.  Last season's midseason acquisition of Rich Harden and this season's preseason trade of Jason Marquis make the Cubs' rotation one of, if not the most formidable in the National League.

An addition of Jake Peavy would only make the case for this being one of the best starting rotations in history, so I don't see much more analysis needed here.

2008 Bullpen - Kevin Hart, Kerry Wood (CL), Carlos Marmol, Bob Howry, Carmen Pignatiello, Michael Wuertz, Jon Lieber (Scott Eyre and Angel Guzman on DL)

2009 Bullpen - Jeff Samardzija / Sean Marshall, Carlos Marmol (CL), Chad Gaudin, Neal Cotts, Kevin Hart, Kevin Gregg, Luis Vizcaino

The bullpen suffers an immediate hit as Carlos Marmol is moved from set-up man to closer.  Marmol is an amazing pitcher, and his 114 strikeouts in just 87.1 IP last year is unheard of.  He was one of the main reasons the Cubs got so many save opportunities last year. 

But can Marmol hold up under the pressure of the ninth inning?  Will Cubs fans turn on him as they did during his bad slump during the 2008 season?

On top of that, who gets him the ball in the ninth inning with the lead?  "Proven" veterans Chad Gaudin and Neal Cotts?  Young gun Kevin Hart?  Newly acquired Kevin Gregg or Luis Vizcaino?  I'm glad we have a potential lights-out closer in Marmol, but we can't count on our starters to go eight innings every game to give him a lead to work with.

OVERALL

Lineup - Advantage: Even

The 2009 Lineup is better in terms of balance and power, but defensively the 2008 lineup is superior.

Bench - Advantage: 2008

Paul Bako pretty much says it all. 

Starting Pitching - Advantage: 2009

Plus Rich Harden, minus Jason Marquis = Advantage 2009

Bullpen - Advantage: 2008

In both years we have an unproven closer, but in 2008 Wood had Marmol.

Overall- Advantage: TBD

Before you write this off as a cop-out answer let me make one point.  There is virtually no way the Cubs can improve on the regular season of 2008. Anything less than a division title (and the best record in the NL) would be a huge disappointment.  There is literally no way the Cubs can have a worse postseason than 2008.  None.  So only October will truly be able to tell whether or not these moves have made a difference.

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