The last time the Chicago Cubs won a World Series, Teddy Roosevelt was president and World War I was six years in the future. Yeah, it's been a while.
Three years ago the Cubs made a run at the playoffs, but a couple of bad seasons and a strong NL Central have pushed the lovable losers to the back burner of Major League Baseball.
A lot has happened since their last playoff appearance, though, and a new ownership group coupled with a new manager may offer Cubs fans some hope.
While this team may be a year—and one future Hall of Famer—away from making a serious run, the NL Central is wide open, and this is a talented club. With their roster nearly set, it's time to take a look at their starting lineup and see what kind of support Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, Matt Garza and Co. can expect in 2011.
Kosuke Fukudome or Tyler Colvin? That's the biggest question facing manager Mike Quade this spring, and no matter what his decision, the question will almost certainly resurface throughout the year.
With an All-Star in center and a hundred-million-dollar left fielder, the Cubs have one spot open in their outfield and two good candidates.
Colvin, who is just 25, figures prominently in the Cubs' future plans. The former top prospect hit 20 home runs and slugged .500 in just 358 at-bats last season and plays solid defense in right field. But he also struck out 100 times last year, and his .316 OBP probably puts him towards the back of the Cubs lineup should he start.
Fukudome, on the other hand, will be 34 this season and is entering the final year of his contract, a four-year, $48 million deal he signed after coming over from Japan. While the Cubs may be better off in the long run giving Colvin the job, Fukudome might be the team's only logical leadoff hitter. His OBP has been over .370 in each of the past two seasons.
The Cubs want to get Colvin playing time, and he'll likely get more at-bats than any other fourth outfielder in baseball next season. But Fukudome gives the team its best chance to win next season playing right and batting leadoff.
Starlin Castro, a shortstop, hit .300 in his rookie season. How special is that? Since 1930, three shortstops have hit .300 in their age 20 season. The first, Arky Vaughan, is a Hall of Famer and nine-time All-Star. The second is Alex Rodriguez. The third is Starlin Castro.
With this in mind, Cubs fans are understandably excited about Castro's future with the organization. The ability to make contact and drive the ball is already there, and given his age, the power could eventually come.
He's yet to develop into a great baserunner, but his 10 triples between AA and the big leagues last season tell you something about his speed, and while his glove lags behind his bat, he has the ability to develop into an above-average defensive shortstop. The total package is exciting.
Mike Quade would like to see Castro hit second this season. The average might come down a bit, but he has the line-drive swing managers love in the two-hole, and his speed will allow him to beat out double plays.
Some see him as a future leadoff hitter, and he may very well be given his high-contact, speedy profile. His OBP shouldn't be too much of a liability if he continues to hit .300, but a more patient approach is needed to take his game to the next level.
Marlon Byrd, once a fourth outfielder, has increasingly shown over the past few years that he can handle a full-time job. A career .282 hitter, he hit .293 last season, though his power output dropped a bit as he moved from Arlington to Wrigley.
Much of Byrd's value comes from an above-average glove and defensive versatility, but he settled into the Cubs' full-time center field job last season and made his first All-Star team. His bat is solid, as he always hits for a good average and modest on-base percentage while providing league-average pop.
His .380 OBP from 2008 has proven an outlier, as has his 20-homer power from 2009, but his bat fits well into the third spot in the Cubs order. His frequent base hits are more valuable with runners on base, but he doesn't have the power to hit in the meat of the Cubs order.
Aramis Ramirez had a tough 2010 season. His .241/.294/.452 line was by far his worst as a Cub, coming after six consecutive seasons of stellar offensive play. The good news? Those six seasons of stellar offensive play.
Ramirez has been overshadowed over the past decade by the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones, David Wright, Scott Rolen and Evan Longoria, but his .895 OPS since 2004 is higher than that of Kevin Youkilis, Joe Mauer and Carlos Beltran. He hit .293 with 19 homers in the second half of the season, production in line with his Cubs career.
At 32, Ramirez is still in his prime and will almost certainly rebound in a big way next season. The Cubs could switch the fourth and fifth hitters in this theoretical lineup, but Ramirez has the better track record and the longer tenure in Chicago.
At some point next season, it is possible that Ramirez will move into the third spot in the lineup, with Byrd moving towards the end, but as of now, I think Ramirez hits cleanup.
The Cubs parted ways with longtime slugging first baseman Derrek Lee last year, and Pena was brought in this offseason to fill his shoes and maybe keep the position warm for Albert Pujols. While Pena struggled last season, all signs point towards a rebound.
We know Pena can hit home runs. He led the league in bombs back in 2009 and hit 46 back in 2007. The problem is with the strikeouts and the batting average.
Still, Pena has been one of the unluckiest hitters in baseball over the past couple of seasons. For a guy who hits the ball as hard as Carlos Pena to hit .235 on balls in play since the start of 2009 is unfathomable. His batting average should rebound, and the power is always there, making him a middle of the lineup offensive force.
As mentioned, there is always the chance that Pena hits fourth and Ramirez fifth most days. If Pena gets off to a hot start, these two could flip places, and I wouldn't be shocked to see Pena and Ramirez both moving up with Byrd or even Fukudome moving down.
Alfonso Soriano is no longer the 40-40 monster he was in New York, Texas and Washington, and the massive contract he signed heading into 2007 with the Cubs doesn't look so great a few years later. But despite the crap Soriano gets, he's still a pretty damn good player.
For one, Soriano is a pretty good defensive left fielder. He was always a poor second baseman, and while he resisted the move to left back in '06, it's really made him a better player.
Soriano no longer runs, but he hit 24 home runs last season in limited playing time and could make a run at 30-plus next season.
With that said, Soriano is going to hit in the sixth or seventh spot this coming season. He was never a top of the order kind of guy, despite his speed, but his average has dipped even further than before, and his on-base percentage isn't getting any higher.
He's going to strike out more than 100 times, and he's not going to hit better than .270, but batting towards the end of the middle of the Cubs lineup, that should be okay. The power will make up for it, and the defense will be icing on the cake.
The 2008 National League Rookie of the Year struggled to keep a starting job at times last season but caught fire last summer and ended the year with the highest OPS of his career.
Soto was a late bloomer as a prospect and despite being 28 years old may not be done improving. Though he strikes out rather often, he also hits for a solid batting average and has begun to walk at a frequent clip. Last season he got on base over 39 percent of the time, a career high. He's got 20 to 25-homer power if given a full-time job.
Soto is a good enough hitter to bat in the 3-5 part of the order, along with Ramirez and Pena, but his position, his somewhat shaky track record and Alfonso Soriano's contract will likely put him in the seventh spot to start the season.
What this does do is lengthen the Cubs lineup, though you have to think his high on-base percentage could be put to better use.
The Cubs have spent years trying to find a long-term solution at the second base position to no avail. Ryan Theriot looked to be in the team's plans for some time, but he was traded to Los Angeles last summer.
Outside of the right field job and the fifth spot in the rotation, second base might be the biggest roster decision Mike Quade has to make as the Cubs' new manager.
DeWitt, a former Dodgers prospect, is just 25 years old but has struggled over three big league seasons with a career .713 OPS. He's a .260 hitter with below-average power and below-average speed. He does walk a bit, though his career OBP of .335 probably keeps him towards the bottom of the order.
Jeff Baker, 29, has shown a bit more offensive skill as a big leaguer, though his time in Coors Field probably helped. Last season, in 79 games for the Cubs, he hit .272 but walked just 16 times and hit just four home runs. His .739 OPS was nothing special.
Darwin Barney also appears to have a shot at the job, though given his offensive struggles last season and his poor minor league record, I can't see him starting this season. That leaves DeWitt and Baker. Right now, DeWitt looks like the front runner. He's younger and is more likely to be apart of the Cubs' future plans.
Neither option is great, and both would likely hit eighth, but DeWitt is the more attractive second base candidate at the moment.