Chicago Cubs fans should be optimistic because things are finally looking up for the franchise! But will those improvements be reflected in the team's 2012 win total?
The Cubs' win totals have been trending downward since 2008. In that landmark season, the team won 97 games, clinched the central division, and looked like World Series contenders. But the Cubs were upset in the first round and never looked the same. In 2009, the Milton Bradley signing flopped and the Cubs' win total dropped to 83 games. Since then, Chicago has not had a winning record.
But now, Chicago’s future prospects look much better. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are a first rate front office team. Their moves so far have helped the team improve for the 2013 season and beyond. Yet, it remains to be seen whether they will help the Cubs in 2012.
Last season, Chicago had a 71-91 record. The team was largely composed of older veterans whose performance was not in line with their paychecks. Now, Kosuke Fukodome, Carlos Zambrano, Carlos Pena, and Aramis Ramirez are all gone, replaced by young, cheap guns like Ian Stewart, Bryan LeHair, Chris Volstad, and Travis Wood. Chicago also added affordable veterans Paul Maholm and David DeJesus.
So, how will those changes affect the Cubs’ win total?
First, DeJesus will replace Fukodome. DeJesus has more value because he gets on base at a high percentage and can bat leadoff for the Cubs. LeHair, Pena’s replacement at first base, showed massive power in his MVP-season in Triple A.
It remains to be seen if he can produce at the MLB level but his power-decent average combination suggests that he can replicate most of Pena’s production. Plus, while Zambrano was a star years ago, he had No. 5 starter production last year. Paul Maholm, who is a ground-ball pitcher with decent ERA averages and NL Central experience, should replace his production.
The toughest 2011 Cub to replace will be Aramis Ramirez. He was still a very good hitting third baseman in 2011, posting both a strong average and hitting for good power. Stewart is a very, very shaky replacement. But, the Cubs will get hitting from outfield prospect Brett Jackson, who will be called up mid-season, and more power output from Starlin Castro will also help.
So, the Cubs will produce at a similar rate to last season and may actually be better. Their hitting is more balanced between left- and right-handers. They will have a real leadoff hitter. And several young players will make an impact.
Cub fans should expect 72-76 wins and a third- or fourth-place finish in the NL Central. Not perfect, but definitely a start to a more promising future.