The most common phrase said by every single Cubs fan when it’s inevitable that the Cubs just are not going to get it done in the current year, “Maybe next year.” I myself have uttered these words too many times in my lifetime to remember, but with a key acquisition in the offseason, the Cubs could just be saying, “This is next year!”
Kosuke Fukudome, the man with the last name so easy to make fun of, is this key acquisition that the Cubs are relying on. His not going to put up huge numbers, such as 30 home runs and 120 RBIs, but he will fill at least two holes the Cubs have: right field and a left handed batter in a line-up full of righties. Prior to signing with the Cubs, Fukudome played nine seasons for the Chunichi Dragons of the Japanese Central League. In 2007, his most recent with the Dragons, he was limited to 81 games due to a right elbow injury and underwent surgery to remove bone fragments in August. Despite the injury, he batted .294 with 22 doubles, 13 home runs, a .520 slugging percentage and had a .443 on-base percentage; he was able to acquire such a high on-base percentage because he walked 69 more times than he struck out (66).
The Cubs are not just one person though; this was proven last year when everyone thought that Alfonso Soriano was going to be the savior. If you want to really see why the Cubs can be the contender that we all hope they can be you have to look at the whole team. I’ll break down the Cubs offensive players by the proposed line-up at the beginning of spring training by Lou Piniella, keeping in mind that Lou is still experimenting with the order: moving Theriot up to the one hole and Soriano down to the two hole, moving Fukudome down to the five hole and Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez up to the three and four hole respectively. I can’t really argue with the experiment that Lou is currently doing because on paper it makes so much more sense to do it this way, but you need to make sure your players are comfortable too! All I have to say, better you than me Lou:
1-Alfonso Soriano, this is where this man should be hitting mainly because he feels comfortable here. He’s not your prototypical leadoff man because of his power potential, but he proved last year when you move him around the order his offensive numbers go down dramatically. Hopefully he feels comfortable at home this year in comparison to last year.
PREDICTION: 111 runs, 38 HRs, 88 RBIs, .282 average, 31 stolen bases
2-Ryan Theriot, he is finally getting his due. Your shortstop doesn’t need to be a home run machine or even win a batting title; just look at the last couple of World Series winners! He plays with heart, and I’ll take that any day over an overpaid and overrated guy (not naming any names). Even when things look the worst, Theriot is still going to go up to the plate or onto the field and give it his all.
PREDICTION: 98 runs, 3 HRs, 78 RBIs, .276 average, 42 stolen bases
3-Kosuke Fukudome, most Japanese players numbers suffer when they make the trip across the Pacific (unless your name is Ichiro), and Fukudome will probably not be any different. The seasons are longer, tougher, and hotter in America then they are in Japan. The Cubs don’t need him to be the player he was in Japan, hitting 30+ home runs; they just need him to bring his patience, incredible eye, and batting average with him. The Cubs have the role players to hit the ball over the ivy covered brick walls; they just need people on base when they do it.
PREDICTION: 98 runs, 11 HRs, 71 RBIs, .289 average (hopefully it will be higher), 9 stolen bases
4-Derrek Lee, probably the most over looked guy at the first base position. He should win the gold glove every year; hell they should rename the gold glove at first base after him. He’s got a great eye and has completely changed his approach at the plate since the 2005 campaign. He now knows that the power will eventually come when you just focus on making great contact with the ball, plus he’s got great protection!
PREDICTION: 122 runs, 33 HRs, 112 RBIs, .322 average, 13 stolen bases
5-Aramis Ramirez, between my friends and I we call him “fat boy,” because he used to be so bad at his defense that we needed a nickname to call him when he screwed up. Plus, I know he’s probably the first one to hit the buffet after the game. His power numbers dropped off last year because I think he finally realized that he has to play the field decently too (keyword: decently). Putting forth that much effort in the field tired him out to where he couldn’t hit the ball as far, at least that’s my theory. His numbers went up in the field, for once, posting a .972 fielding percentage; compared to .947 fielding percentage 2 years prior.
PREDICTION: 98 runs, 36 HRs, 122 RBIs, .301 average, 0 stolen bases
6-Mark DeRosa, the super utility man. Notice what I said there, utility man. I love DeRosa, I’m a huge fan, but I would love to see him in the utility role instead of just being the everyday second baseman. In that role he could keep the whole team fresh. What this man is able to do: play at so many different positions day after day, and have such a great fielding percentage at each is in itself amazing. He could still play 120 games at the utility position while helping out the team in a way that no other player can. But then again when a Hall a Fame coach (Bobby Cox) says he wishes he could play him everyday you don’t question it, or do you? Needless to say his numbers should go up dramatically with Geovany Soto hitting behind him.
PREDICTION: 82 runs, 15 HRs (13 is his career high), 73 RBIs, .283 average, 2 stolen bases
7-Geovany Soto, a lot of people are expecting a lot out of this kid, especially me. He’s coming off his MVP season in Triple A and a huge late season call up by the Cubs. He has the possibility of being one of the best young catchers in the league for years to come, but first he has to prove his worth in his first full season in the majors. Don’t expect the numbers he put up in the minors, were he batted .353 with 26 home runs and 109 RBIs, but expect great numbers from a catcher.
PREDICTION: 62 runs, 18 HRs, 70 RBIs, .277 average, 0 stolen bases
8-Felix Pie, how many times have you heard his name associated with the future of the Cubs? I know, I know too many! Right now he’s probably not hearing anything along those lines, but instead as many jokes that can be made up using baseballs as a pun. One can only hope that he can live up to half of his potential. Hopefully, this will be the year of his coming out party.
PREDICTION: 71 runs, 9 HRs, 49 RBIs, .251 average (a bit high, but here’s hoping), 29 stolen bases
As you can see the Cubs have it all offensively: speed, power and average; it’s just a matter of mixing and using them all to their full potential, especially the speed potential. All the speed that they will have on the base paths will make the opposing pitchers unable to fully concentrate, and that should play to their favor with better batting averages and more home runs. Want proof? Look at the White Sox in their 2005 World Series campaign.
Don’t expect Fukudome to be the savior or to put up “monster numbers” and bring the Cubs the easy championship that most of us are hoping for. There will, of course, be drama, come on, it’s the Cubs; but that’s what makes baseball so great: the drama, conflict, and turmoil that is built up throughout all the games played all year and 9 innings, at least, played per game.
Coming Soon: the Pitching Staff!