The Chicago Cubs have been very active in the free-agent market this offseason. They have taken steps to improve almost every aspect of the team. Some areas that were addressed could be considered temporary fixes, until either one of the team’s prospects is ready to be called up, or a better option presents itself.
Although Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have been busy trying to pull the Cubs out of the cellar of the NL Central, the odds are still heavily stacked against them for 2013.
Most Cubs fans have accepted the fact that the team is rebuilding, and they may have to wait at least another season before the team is truly competitive again. 2013 will be about progress, but after the Oakland Athletics' fairytale season in 2012, some fans are holding on to some slim hopes that the Cubs can make a run in 2013.
However, that is still not likely to happen. The Cubs are positioning themselves to be competitive again, but it probably won’t be until 2014.
Not convinced? Here are three reasons why the Cubs will compete for the NL Central crown as early as 2014.
There isn’t much about a 101-loss season that makes a fan smile. But in the Cubs' case, some players did emerge in 2012 that could point to the future being a little brighter.
Jeff Samardzija stepped up in 2012 and showed he had the potential to be the ace of the staff in the very near future. Starlin Castro is one of the better offensive shortstops in the game, while Darwin Barney is as smooth as they come over at second base and will be in Gold Glove discussions at the end of every season.
And let’s not forget Anthony Rizzo, who swings a bat that would make you think it was crafted from a tree that was struck by lightning.
The Cubs are a third baseman away from having one of the most talented infields in the game. Ian Stewart will be given one more shot in 2013, but the leash will be very short. The good news is top prospect Javier Baez is due to arrive in the big leagues in 2014.
You won’t find any Wil Myers-type players in the Cubs' organization, but they do have some players that will be helping the Cubbies in the near future.
Brett Jackson is the closest to breaking into the bigs, and with the outfield situation in Chicago, it will definitely be sooner than later. Matt Sczcur can fly around the base paths, and he could finally provide the Cubs with a base-stealing threat at the top of the lineup.
Another interesting prospect is Junior Lake. He is a natural shortstop, but with Castro entrenched at shortstop, and Javier Baez’s emerging potential at third base, the Cubs would be wise to take advantage of Lake’s athleticism by moving him to the outfield.
Javier Baez, as mentioned in the previous slide, seems to be the heir apparent at third base, which would give the Cubs one of the best infields in the league.
The top three pitchers in the Cubs' farm system are Trey McNutt, Arodys Vizcaino, and Robert Whitenack.
Whitenack and Vizcaino are both coming off serious elbow injuries which required Tommy John Surgery. Before their injuries, they were two of the brightest pitching prospects in the game. Vizcaino’s fastball was clocked in triple digits, and Whitenack was gobbling up hitters like Pac-man gobbles power pellets.
McNutt, another power pitcher, may be in a position to break in with the team in a bullpen role as early as 2013.
The main reason why the Cubs will be ready to contend in the NL Central as early as 2014 is Theo Epstein
He was the man behind bringing the Curse of the Bambino to an end up in Boston in 2004. Epstein was named GM of the franchise in 2002, and two years later, the Red Sox won their first World Series in 84 years.
Epstein may be in the business of breaking curses, but he has his work cut out for him once again. The Cubs haven’t won a World Series in 104 years.
The good news is that Epstein seems to be the perfect combination of sabermetrician and witch doctor.
Seriously though, Buster Olney of ESPN tweeted about a week ago that other teams around the league are starting to take notice about how Epstein is carefully crafting a winning ball club again. Insert Cubs fans’ smiles here.
We know he can build winning teams. We know he can break curses that at one time may have seemed unbreakable. Epstein is exactly what Chicago needs to finally end their World Series drought.