The Chicago Cubs' humiliating 2012 season is over and their hopeful offseason is already underway.
After going 61-101 last season, the Cubs hope to rebuild some key areas. It won't take a miracle to fix the Cubs, only a practical plan and some keen insight into the free agent market.
Nearly all areas of the Cubs are in need of improvement and it won't happen overnight as some fans might hope.
Their starting rotation and bullpen lack key players; a problem that started to show later in the season. Third base remains a mystery as does a handful of other positions in the outfield and behind the plate.
But there is hope. Cubs President, Theo Epstein, has stressed that the rebuilding process will take some time—a good team is coming.
To become that good team the Cubs have five areas that need to be addressed sooner rather than later. It may take more than just one offseason to address all of the Cubs' needs, but they can be a contender next year if the right moves are made.
These are the five ways to fix the Chicago Cubs for 2013:
The Cubs' starting rotation will go through a major overhaul this offseason.
Two key guys in the Cubs rotation are Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija, both are expected to the lead the pitching staff for the 2013 season.
Samardzija believes that the Cubs can be contenders in the 2013 season, it just will take everyone to play well (via Doug Padilla ESPN):
"Everybody here is a good player and the talent level here is closer than you think. You look at teams that have a ton of talent and they don’t have great years. You have to look at it in a positive way that if we get off to a hot start and our young guys are playing good and get some confidence, anything can happen, especially in these long seasons."
Other than Samardzija and Garza, the Cubs lack significant depth in starting pitching. Travis Wood, Chris Rusin and Jason Berken all will have a crack at the 2013 rotation, but in order to be competitive the Cubs need more.
The team ERA was 4.51, which ranked them 24th in the MLB; getting quality starts from all their starters will be key.
The addition of a pitching ace would also give the Cubs a legitimate number one starter.
Considering that the Cubs organization wants to remain small in the free market, it limits the amount of money their willing to spend. The Cubs focus this offseason will mostly be pitching depth.
Brandon McCarthy and Shaun Marcum are two of the top names that the Cubs are going after (according to Gordon Wittenmyer Chicago Sun-Times).
Both would be great additions to the Cubs' starting rotation, adding depth to a rotation in need of it, but neither will ascend to be the number one guy.
The Cubs bullpen was also of major concern last season.
Having both highs and lows during the season, Carlos Marmol will be a main talking point during the offseason.
Marmol was the the player involved in the trade that fell through with the Los Angeles Angels. Now, with the $9.8 million that he is due next season, the Cubs will have to figure out just what exactly they want to do with the embattled relief pitcher.
Earlier in the year, the Cubs traded Sean Marshall and Andrew Cashner while Kerry Wood retired from the organization. Three bullpen pitchers that are gone and have yet to be replaced; just how much can we expect from the bullpen?
James Russell showed that he is progressing as a bullpen pitcher and Michael Bowden looks to be a solid player heading into next season.
Cubs president Theo Epstein summed up the season for the bullpen saying that the early slow start doomed them (via Doug Padilla ESPN):
"We had a tough bullpen month to start and lost a lot of close games and kind of buried ourselves right out of the chute. We didn't have the talent to overcome that."
One or two more solid bullpen pitchers and a fast start will ensure that next season ends better than the last.
The fact of the matter is simple, the Cubs need a consistent third baseman.
Last season they had three players that shared the role of third baseman: Ian Stewart, Josh Vitters and Luis Valbuena.
All performed the duty at an acceptable rate, but the time has come to find a reliable, everyday third baseman. The Cubs haven't had a power-hitting and defensively sound third baseman since Aramis Ramirez suited up for them.
The Cubs are big on a prospect named Javier Baez to be their future third baseman. He is currently working his way up through the minors and is not expected to make the MLB next season.
GM Jed Hoyer said that next season's option for third base is still unclear (via Bruce Levine ESPN):
"It is a position that has limited clear options for. We may have to be creative through trades. We are still talking to Ian, but there are not a lot of clear options on the free agent market. We may have to look at some different avenues and options to solve it."
But for the time being the Cubs may want to look at Kevin Youkilis, a reliable third baseman with many years of experience who has already played in Chicago with the White Sox.
The 33-year-old infielder will be a prime target as the White Sox have already expressed interest in re-signing him. The Cubs will have to express their interest and persuade Youkilis to come to the north side of town.
Both Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are expected to lead the Cubs roster next season.
The two rookies are still in need of a veteran presence that will groove them into possible superstar players; regardless, they will need to take an active leadership role in 2013.
Castro and Rizzo need to lead on the field with stellar defensive play and by getting on base in key moments. Setting the example for the rookies and even veterans on the Cubs roster.
Though, it doesn't look to be easy as the two players are still experiencing MLB growing pains.
Castro has experienced his fair share of mental gaffes, enough so that manager Dale Svuem has benched him on poor performance. This leads the shortstop to apologize and promise to do better next time, hopefully he continues to improve upon his defensive play.
Rizzo has also had his share of errors on the field and problems at the plate; all which take time and patience to resolve.
First base looks to be a tough position but the Cubs may have a cornerstone in Rizzo for years to come.
Regardless, both players have elite skills, enough so to be building blocks for the Cubs going forward.
Darwin Barney will also be a key factor in setting the infield defensive tone early next season.
The Gold Glove winner matched the longest single-season errorless streak in MLB history and played stellar all season. Maybe Barney can teach Castro a thing or two about defensive play around the infield.
Let's face it, the Cubs were abysmal with the bat last season.
Leaving guys on base, not getting on base enough and even failing to get more than a few hits against some of the weaker MLB teams.
Lack of offense isn't all to blame for the Cubs' woes, but looking at some numbers it was a key factor in the 101 losses.
According to ESPN, the Cubs had 613 runs last season, ranking them 28th overall in runs scored, a .260 team batting average which ranked them 26th overall and a .302 on base stat ranking them a horrid 29th overall.
One telling statistic of this is when the Cubs lost a record 12 straight one-run games.
When your ballclub is losing that many games by one run, an extra hit or even a better on-base hitting percentage goes a long way.
Numbers don't lie, the Cubs need to get better at the plate for the 2013 season.
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