The Chicago Cubs have been accustomed to losing seasons over the past few years.
But 101 losses is another thing entirely. No team ever takes those campaigns in stride—even franchises with a 108-year World Series drought weighing on them.
Without mincing words, the Cubs were positively dreadful in 2012. Triple-digit losses were bad, but so were near dead-last team rankings in both hitting and pitching in the National League.
For perspective, the Cubs finished 36 games behind the first-place Reds. Other accolades include a 12-game losing streak, allowing 17 runs in a single game and being shut out 16 times.
Is that bad? Well, it’s not good.
Harsh realities aside, new president of baseball operations Theo Epstein (with general manager Jed Hoyer serving underneath him) has been busy at work since signing his five-year deal last October. He traded away the embattled Carlos Zambrano and his enormous contract in January. He also dealt former rookie of the year Geovany Soto and pitcher Ryan Dempster at the trade deadline for a collection of prospects.
The Cubs leading front office man now stands at the precipice of something he may have not experienced before. He presided over the century-old tradition of losing with the Red Sox, but turned the franchise around in short order to the tune of two World Series titles.
With the Cubs, however, he’s in for the long haul—a haul that will have to battle against 108 years of depressing history.
For us non-law-degree-earning observers, let’s offer a few thoughts on the potential offseason moves for the Cubs.
Even with the aforementioned trades, there remains a need for shedding contacts. And that first involves Alfonso Soriano.
The Cubs’ leading RBI and home-run man earned $19 million in 2012. He stands to make the same amount over the next two years. The player that once produced a 40-40 season is now 36 and has few—if any—prospects for that kind of continued success.
Also, closer Carlos Marmol is another player bringing down the franchise with a contract that is incommensurate with his talent.
The former 38-save, 138-strike-out reliever is not anywhere near that type of production. He walks way too many batters and is anything but consistent.
Moving forward, Epstein must continually restock the team’s farm system to maintain the kind of turnaround that prevents the Sorianos of the world from unnecessarily weighing down the checkbook. He must look towards securing sustainable, long-term talent that will be quality investments for the franchise.
A homegrown prospect (i.e. a player cultivated through the organization) like Starlin Castro is a prime example. Even though a seven-year contract appears like one of those notoriously bad Cubs deals, it’s actually a relative bargain compared to what Castro might have commanded later on in his career.
Moreover, the pitching staff is ravished. Only Jeff Samardzija brings a low ERA and lasting future potential among the starters. Travis Wood and Matt Garza bring star power as well, but need to overcome injuries and stop underachieving. The staff requires additional arms moving forward.
Among the relievers, James Russell offers promise for the future with his 3.25 ERA and seven wins out of the bullpen. Other than that, the relieving prospects look fairly bleak.
And not to be forgotten, Chicago’s lineup is in major need of overhauling. Only four players qualified for the batting title. Of those four, only two will likely remain with the team (Castro and Darwin Barney).
The Cubs will continue infusing young talent into the organization in an attempt to resurrect this proud franchise. International star Jorge Soler is one such example.
Look for Epstein to unload additional contracts, make fiscally responsible moves and bring in quality players across the board.
It’s all about the future for the Chicago Cubs.
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