Despite the foot of snow blanketing the ground in Chicago, Cubs season is officially upon us. Pitchers and catchers formally report on Thursday, and there will be much activity from the start. Many pitchers will be vying for a spot on the roster, including Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel.
After losing 197 games combined in the last two seasons, the Cubs must begin to make improvements. However, with a very young team and an emphasis on patience for development, the Cubs are not expected to go from last to contender anytime soon.
So what must the Cubs do in order for 2014 to be deemed a success? Let's take a look.
Though not as significant as the on-field progress of the Cubs, the team's ongoing battle against the rooftop owners has more than run its course. Lawsuits have been threatened, permits have already been applied for and approved, but yet there have been minimal changes to Wrigley this offseason due to the absurd stubbornness of Wrigleyville's rooftop owners.
For heaven's sake, what more will the rooftop owners ask for? No doubt, many Cubs fans would give anything just to be able to live so close to Wrigley Field, not to mention make a living off of it.
The rooftop owners only give 17 percent of their revenue to the Cubs. Either pipe down and take a buyout from the team, or go move to a house that's across the street from U.S. Cellular Field.
As for their television deal, the Cubs have been reported to be seeking a better deal with WGN. If the team and television network are unable to compromise, the Cubs are expected to look elsewhere. WGN has been televising Cubs games since 1948.
The Cubs must seek something in both aspects that will guarantee the best possible fiscal deal, as well as pleasing as many fans as possible.
Between the offense of Darwin Barney, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, on top of Castro's many mental and defensive gaffes, Cubs fans had plenty to stress about last season. Despite being two of the highest paid players on the team, Castro and Rizzo both struggled in 2013.
This season, both players must improve on their games. Castro's on-base percentage dropped to .284, while the two combined for a total of 256 strikeouts in 1,272 at-bats. That equates to a strikeout in 20 percent of their at-bats.
Barney also needs to bring his .208 batting average up to an acceptable level.
Rizzo and Barney's defense was stellar as both were finalists for a Gold Glove Award at their respective positions. Castro, however, struggled on defense. His struggles were topped off with an embarrassing mental gaffe against the Cardinals at the end of the season, bringing many Cubs fans to their breaking points in regards to Castro's mentality on the field.
Any regression or lack of improvement from any of these three individuals could cost them their future with the team.
After watching the Cardinals and Pirates clinch playoff milestones, as the team looked from the other side of home plate, the Cubs have plenty of reason to come out swinging against Central Division opponents.
The National League Central will again be tough this year, as the Pirates and Cardinals return most of their starters from last year's playoff teams and the Brewers have improved their pitching by signing Francisco Rodriguez and former Cub Matt Garza.
The Cubs need to improve against division opponents. They finished at a dismal 25-51 against division opponents last year, tied for the worst record against division opponents with the Houston Astros.
Improvement from players such as Barney, Castro and Rizzo will be huge steps towards competing in the division.
The Cubs also blew more saves than any other team in the division with 26. James Russell led the majors with eight blown saves in 2014. A combination of less blown saves and more production from Castro, Rizzo and Barney would already be critical steps in the right direction.
The Cubs lost an all-time worst 51 games at home this season, the first time that the team has ever lost more than 50 games at home in one campaign.
Some attribute the team's futility at home to the antiquity of Wrigley Field, fueling the argument that the team needs to renovate the 100-year-old ballpark immediately.
With the most loyal fans of all sports on their side, the Cubs need to take advantage of their home field advantage.
This one is a no-brainer. Just don't lose so much.
As previously mentioned, the Cubs have lost a combined 197 games in the previous two seasons. The team lost 96 last year, only 5 better than their loss total in 2012. Progress must be shown on the field, or else Cubs fans will really be up in arms.
As Sports Illustrated so eagerly pointed out, the Cubs have not made many significant moves this offseason. Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein had said from the start that they had not planned on making any splashes in free agency or on the trading block.
As a result, the Cubs shouldn't expect to make any drastic improvements on the field either. However, they still need to show some signs of growth from core players and fly the "W" flag a bit more often.
An improvement from Castro, Barney and Rizzo combined with winning more games at Wrigley and blowing less saves all would help improve the Cubs record. The team would also be aided by successful management from Renteria, who will be stepping into his first managerial job in the majors.
Theo Epstein's rebuilding plan is all about the future. Young stars such as Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney and Anthony Rizzo are the core of the team (for now) while other young prospects with little or no experience, such as SS Javier Baez, 3B Mike Olt and OFs Junior Lake and Albert Almora hope to eventually complete the Cubs' needs.
Baez, Olt and Lake all will see time in the majors this season, while others such as Almora and 3B Kris Bryant will likely progress through the minors but won't play at Wrigley in 2014.
Besides youth and prospects, first-year manager Rick Renteria is also key. Renteria's ability to develop youth is critical to the team, but the Cubs must also develop his abilities as well.