4 Ways Chicago Cubs Can Become Contenders Sooner Rather Than Later

Eric Steitz@esteitz16Analyst IIIOctober 1, 2012

4 Ways Chicago Cubs Can Become Contenders Sooner Rather Than Later

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    The Chicago Cubs haven’t been serious contenders since 2008—another frustrating stretch for a team that hasn’t won a World Series since 1908. But, if the Cubs do these things, they could become contenders sooner rather than later. 

    The Cubs have had an abysmal season. They are fifth in the NL Central and are on the verge of 100-plus losses. 

    Even the friendly confines of Wrigley Field haven’t been very friendly. A 37-41 home record combined with a 22-57 road record have escorted the Cubs to the bottom of the league. 

    The Cubs’ president of baseball operations, Theo Epstein, has a history of breaking curses. The youngest general manager in MLB history, Epstein put the pieces in place that broke Boston’s World Series curse after just two seasons at the helm of the Red Sox.

    The Cubs have finished fifth in the NL Central every year since 2009, but if they do these things, they just might become contenders sooner rather than later.

Bring in Two Consistent Veteran Starting Pitchers

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    The Cubs starters are statistically some of the worst in the MLB. The staff is 23rd in earned run average (4.53), tied for 20th in WHIP (1.33) and have a 41-73 record. 

    With Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm gone, the Cubs have an inconsistent, but talented, Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija to anchor the staff. That’s not good considering they are a combined 14-20 this season. 

    The Cubs typically overpay and underachieve so finding value in veteran pitchers is key. According to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, the Cleveland Indians are going to listen to trade offers for Justin Masterson. 

    Buster Olney of ESPN has also said that the Cubs could be targeting Jake Peavy. Acquiring one of those two pitchers, for the right price, would be extremely beneficial for a young pitching staff. 

    Acquiring veteran starters would increase depth in the bullpen and allow time for the young staff to develop. The Cubs can’t get attracted to big names and high price tags though. That would set them even further back in their development.

Bring in a Young Closer

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    Carlos Marmol has been brilliant and he has been awful for the Cubs. The inconsistent closer won the job, lost the job, got demoted and promoted all this season.

    The Atlanta Braves have clinched a playoff spot and owe a significant amount of credit to their young-stud closer Craig Kimbrel. A consistent ninth-inning man is crucial to a postseason appearance. 

    Of the teams in the hunt for the postseason, all but two (Detroit Tigers, 19-27 and New York Yankees, 21-25) have winning records in one-run games. The Cubs are 14-27 in those games, only the Toronto Blue Jays are worse (12-25). 

    Not all of those games are save opportunities and not all of them are Marmol’s ineffectiveness, but Chicago needs to improve if they want to make a postseason run in the near future. 

    Atlanta is 25-12 in those games. The Cincinnati Reds are 30-19. The Baltimore Orioles are an astonishing 27-9 in nail-biters. 

    Someone like San Diego’s Huston Street could be a great addition to the bullpen. He could platoon in the ninth inning or be a great set-up man in the eighth. He’s a bit injury-prone, but he is extremely effective when healthy.

Get Value out of Alfonso Soriano

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    The Cubs missed an opportunity to unload salary and bring in young talent by not trading outfielder Alfonso Soriano at the deadline. Somehow, they need to find a way to get value out of the former star. 

    According to spotrac.com, Soriano makes $18 million per season with a $1 million bonus. He’s in contract through 2014. That’s a lot of salary for a .263 hitter. 

    Soriano has been extremely productive for the Cubs this season with 30-plus home runs, 100-plus runs batted in and six stolen bases. Those totals are personal highs since 2007 in HRs and 2009 in stolen bases. His RBI-total is a career high. 

    This was the perfect time to trade the aging outfielder, but it didn’t happen. The Cubs need to find a way to get some value out of Soriano for the next few years, whether it is by improving the batting order around him or by trading him.

Establish an Identity and Hold to It

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    In 2012, fans have no idea which Chicago Cubs team is going to show up. Is it going to be a small-ball game? Is it going to be a slugfest?

    The Cubs have one legitimate power hitter in Soriano (31). Anthony Rizzo and Bryan LaHair are next with 15. Their 134 home runs place them 23rd in the MLB. 

    Chicago isn’t a speedy team, either. With 92 total stolen bases, the Cubs are 21st in the league in the category. Tony Campana and Starlin Castro lead the team with 29 and 25 swiped-bags, respectively. 

    What about a station-to-station team? Chicago has 1269 hits this season (27th) and a team average of .246 (26th). They are also 27th in the league in walks. 

    The best teams in the league have an identity. The Yankees are a power team. The Braves are a defensive team. The Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds are pitching and power teams. 

    Manager Dale Sveum needs to establish an identity and the Cubs need to build a lineup that fits that philosophy. With this season under his belt as a foundation, Sveum can start to build on it. 

    This is the first time since 1966 that the Cubs could finish with 100-plus losses. Sveum better move the Cubs away from that number in 2013.