61-101, Fifth place in National League Central
What The Cubs Need To Happen in 2013
After making a few moves in free agency this offseason, the Cubs are looking to keep their rebuilding effort on the right track.
The farm system is still the biggest area of emphasis for general manager Jed Hoyer and team president Theo Epstein. The front office did a terrific job of adding high-ceiling impact talent to a depleted system in their first year.
Now they have to see that players such as Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, et al., stay on the right course in the lower levels of the minors. There is a lot more talent in the system than just those three, but they are going to be the stars of the future that will bring a championship to Chicago.
In the big leagues, a priority is getting Matt Garza healthy and throwing well before the trade deadline to maximize whatever value he has on the market. He is expected to miss at least the first month of the regular season after straining a lat muscle in spring training.
Getting Alfonso Soriano off to a hot start and finding someone willing to take him off their hands, with the Cubs reportedly willing to eat a lot of the money left on his contract, would be a gift.
The rotation has a lot more depth this year than in 2012, though no one that really stands out. Edwin Jackson, who was signed to a four-year deal, is still a great enigma. He has an electric arm with a great fastball and the ability to miss bats, but his command and inconsistencies don't allow him to be more than a league-average starter.
Jeff Samardzija had a breakout season as a starter last year, posting a 3.81 ERA and 180 strikeouts in 174.2 innings. He has the stuff to be a well above-average starting pitcher, but he needs to be more consistent with his command in the zone to reach that ceiling.
Even though the Cubs tried to trade Carlos Marmol, thanks to Dan Haren's faulty back, he will still be a factor in their bullpen. However, they don't need to use him closing games or in high-leverage situations. He is just as likely to strike out the side as he is to walk in three runs.
Instead, establishing Japanese import Kyuji Fujikawa as the go-to late-inning reliever is the top priority for this team. He is 32 years old, so his window to succeed is not huge. But if he throws strikes, he is infinitely more valuable than Marmol.
Shortstop Starlin Castro remains the best player on the big league roster, though it would be nice to see him improve in certain aspects.
He is never going to be a player who walks a lot, which is fine because his bat speed and plate coverage are so good. It would be nice to see him get a little more selective at the plate and wait on his pitch, just to get that on-base percentage in the .340-.350 range it was in 2011.
Anthony Rizzo had a nice debut season for the Cubs last year. He needs to continue that this season, providing the pop in the middle of the order this team desperately needs if/when Soriano gets traded.
It would also be good to see the Cubs get something out of either Josh Vitters or Brett Jackson. Both players have been on the prospect radar for years, they are still young (Jackson is 24, Vitters 23) and it is too early to write them off completely.
But both Vitters and Jackson have huge holes in their game that they have never been able to fix in the minors, so the odds of that happening in the big leagues are slim.
What Could Go Wrong
Since the Cubs are still in rebuild mode, they are at the mercy of a few players staying healthy and producing.
If Garza comes back and doesn't look good, especially since he becomes a free agent at the end of this year, anything the Cubs get back in a potential trade will pale in comparison to what it could have been if he were healthy and pitching up to his potential.
Same thing with Soriano, who had a solid season in 2012 with 32 home runs (but still just a .322 on-base percentage). If he plays like he did in 2011, when he had a .289 OBP, it won't matter how much money the Cubs eat. It also doesn't help matters that he has a full no-trade clause.
If Castro's inability to take a walk catches up to him, pitchers will be able to exploit holes in his swing and his average will dip even further, making his future looks a little blurry.
If Rizzo can't sustain the power production he put up in his half season last year, questions about his bat will creep up one more time.
And if Arodys Vizcaino, who was acquired last July in the deal that sent Paul Maholm to Atlanta, has a rocky comeback from Tommy John surgery and can't find the strike zone enough to help out in the big leagues, the bullpen will be significantly weakened.
Bottom line: The Cubs aren't looking at wins and losses this season. No, 2013 is all about development and figuring out which players will represent the core of the team in the future when their window to contend opens once again.