Home Improvement: How to Rebuild the Cubs into Contenders in 2012
For the third year in a row, the Cubs are starting to look like sellers at the trade deadline, and the rebuilding towards of a brighter future will begin very quickly.
The Cubs have a lot of work in front of them to bring this club out of the mediocrity it's been stuck in over the last few years.
The Cubs will have at least $40 million to spend during this off-season, but hopefully they've have learned from their last spending spree in 2007.
Here's what the Cubs have to do, and a look at what the future holds at every position before the 2012 season begins.
Current First Baseman: Carlos Pena
Chances of being with the Club in 2012: 0%
Potential Free Agent Signings: Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Jorge Cantu, Todd Helton, Russel Branyan, Lance Berkman
Prediction for who'll play First Base in 2012:
The Cubs will most likely look to trade Carlos Pena before the trade deadline, and unfortunately, they'll most likely have to eat up the majority of his $10 million contract. Pena will be attractive to teams who are desperate for some extra pop coming off the bench. However, Pena will probably end up in the American League serving as a designated hitter.
The Cubs will try to get as much as they can in return for Pena, but looking at Jim Hendry’s track record as a seller at the trade deadline, he has failed miserably at receiving major league-ready players in return (e.g. Ted Lilly and the Ryan Theriot trade).
Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder are the biggest names on the free agent market, and the Cubs have made it their goal to grab either one, especially with their home attendance getting worse with each passing game. It's no secret that the Cubs are very interested in landing Albert Pujols, but given his age at 32, signing him to a long, expensive deal could make it harder for the franchise to rebuild at other positions.
Prince Fielder, at 28, is younger can be the centerpiece of a rebuilding effort. Both Fielder and Pujols offer star power, and Cubs fans would gladly accept both.
That being said, Fielder could stabilize an organization for years, and there would be no worries about a decline in production due to his age for quite some time.
Current Second Baseman: Darwin Barney, platoon of Jeff Baker and Blake DeWitt
Chances of Being with the the Club in 2012:
Darwin Barney: 100%
Jeff Baker: 50%
Blake DeWitt: 50%
Potential Free Signings: Orlando Cabrera, Felipe Lopez, Kelly Johnson, Willie Bloomquist, Clint Barmes, Jose Lopez
Prediction for who'll play Second Base in 2012:
Darwin Barney was nothing but a whisper during spring training, but he has stepped up during the regular season and has made a strong claim for the starting spot at second base.
Barney has been one the bright spots in what have been a disastrous 2011 season for the Cubs. Barney’s production has been consistent through the early parts of the season thus far, but it will be interesting to see how he handles the load of 162 games.
Without question, Barney is projected to be the starting second baseman for the next year, but it would be wise for the Cubs to sign a proven veteran. The era of Jeff Baker and Blake DeWitt will most likely come to an end after the 2011 season, and signing a backup second baseman isn't a major concern for the Cubs.
It would be wise to sign a player like Orlando Cabrera, whose leadership can help spark a lackluster team.
Expect the Cubs to either sign Orlando Cabrera, Felipe Lopez, or Clint Barmes to a one year deal for less than $5 million to provide insurance behind Barney.
The ideal choice would be Kelly Johnson, but his price tag may be to high for the Cubs.
Current Shortstop: Starlin Castro
Chances of Being with the Club in 2012: 100%
Potential Free Agent Signings: Alex Gonzalez, Edgar Renteria, Miguel Tejada, Jamey Carroll, Omar Infante
Prediction for who'll play Shortstop in 2012:
This is Starlin Castro’s position for not only the 2012 season, but until he either retires or leaves the Cubs as a free agent.
The only way Starlin Castro doesn't start at shortstop next season is if the Cubs sign Jose Reyes and switch Castro to second base. Dreams do come true, but don’t count on that one, Cubs fans.
However, the Cubs find themselves in same situation at shortstop as they do with Darwin Barney, trying to find a complimentary backup for Castro. Edgar Renteria, Miguel Tejada, and Alex Gonzalez may demand to much money for the Cubs to invest in them.
The logical choice would be signing a veteran. Jamey Carroll and Omar Infante are possibilities, and Infante could come at a low price because of his horrid season with the Flordia Marlins thus far.
Current Third Baseman: Aramis Ramirez
Chances of being with the the Club in 2012: 25%
Potential Free Agent Signings: Mark DeRosa, Jose Lopez, Eric Chavez, Felipe Lopez, Wes Helms
Prediction for who'll play Third Base in 2012:
Aramis Ramirez's agent has announced that he isn't planning on waiving his no trade clause. Ramirez is playing out the final season of a five-year, $75 million contract, and there are indications everywhere he won't be brought back for his $15 million club option in 2012.
The good news for the Cubs is they have an extra $15 million to spend during the off-season, but if Ramirez stays true to his word and doesn't waive his no-trade clause, the Cubs will be missing out on potential prospects they could get by trading Ramirez.
The free agent market for third basemen isn't very appealing, and it would be wise for the Cubs to look for a replacement for Ramirez internally.
Top prospect Josh Vitters will most likely be given a chance to showcase his abilities in late August or early September to determine if he's the solution, or just another question mark.
If Vitters doesn't look promising, look for the Cubs to sign either Jose Lopez or Felipe Lopez as a short-term solution.
Current Catcher: Geovany Soto
Chances of Being with the Club in 2012: 60%
Potential Free Agent: Signings Gerald Laird, Ivan Rodriguez, Dioner Navarro, Ramon Castro, Jose Molina
Prediction for who'll play Catcher in 2012:
Geovany Soto’s production has diminished quickly since his sensational Rookie of the Year season in 2008.
His bat speed has slowed, his plate discipline has declined, and the strength of his throwing arm has weakened.
I would be surprised if Soto isn't traded to a contender before the season’s end.
Once again, this is another situation where the Cubs will turn to their minor league system to find a solution.
None of the free agent candidates are long-term solutions, but it wouldn't be a bad idea to sign Ivan Rodriguez or Ramon Castro to mentor the young catchers in the system.
I have a feeling Jim Hendry will try to go after Gerald Laird, who he has been targeting for years.
Koyie Hill is certainly not the answer for the Cubs, and we still need to see more from Wellington Castillio before making assumptions about him.
Michael Brenly, Bob Brenly’s son, is having a fantastic season in Double A, and I expect we'll find out what he has to offer come September.
Current Left Fielder: Alfonso Soriano
Chances of Being with the Club in 2012: 100%
Potential Free Agent Signings: Johnny Damon, Juan Pierre, Josh Willingham, Laynce Nix, Jonny Gomes, Patt Burrell
Prediction for who'll play Left field in 2012:
The Cubs pretty much have their hands tied due to Soriano's hefty, long-term contract.
It would be virtually impossible for the Cubs to move Soriano because of his age and the millions of dollars they still owe him.
The best the Cubs can do is find a player who can provide insurance behind Soriano, because given his history he's almost guaranteed to come down with some injury during a 162-game campaign.
The Cubs will not look for a long-term investment if they do sign someone in free agency, but they will need to have someone to platoon with Soriano in left field.
Laynce Nix or Juan Pierre could be potential one-year deals, and they can come at a low cost.
If they want to look for help in their minor league system, they can give either Brad Synder or Brett Jackson a chance to play as Soriano's backup.
Current Center Fielder: Marlon Byrd
Chances of being with the Club in 2012: 100%
Potential Free Agent Signings: Mike Cameron, Reed Johnson, Cody Ross, Corey Patterson, David DeJesus
Prediction for who'll play Center Field in 2012:
Marlon Byrd’s hustle has made him an instant fan favorite, and his career has taken off since he signed a three-year deal with the Cubs in 2010.
He made his first All-Star appearance last season, and he was on his way toward his second if it wasn't for a pitch that struck him in the head, landing him on the fifteen-day disabled list.
Whenever Byrd returns from the DL, he'll most likely occupy center field for the rest of this season and in 2012 as well.
The most predictable free agent signing the Cubs will make is re-signing Reed Johnson to platoon with Byrd.
Current Right Fielder: Kosuke Fukudome
Chances of being with the club in 2012: 0%
Potential Free Agent Signings: David DeJesus, Brad Hawpe, Josh Willingham, Jason Kubel
Prediction for who'll play Right Field in 2012:
Kosuke Fukudome’s much-hyped entrance into U.S. baseball with the Chicago Cubs will most likely come to end after his contract expires at the end of this season.
Fukudome is having a resurgence this year, but unfortunately for him, it's too little, too late.
The Cubs are unlikely to offer Fukudome another contract as the year winds down, and it would not be surprising if they try to ship him off before the trade deadline.
To solve the vacancy in right field, the Cubs will turn almost exclusively to players in their own farm system.
We'll see a lot more of Brad Synder, and the highly-anticipated appearance of Brett Jackson is likely in the final weeks of the season.
Tyler Colvin will also be in the mix.
If the Cubs were to sign any free agents, David DeJesus is the most likely target. DeJesus has been on their radar for years, and this is the most opportune time for the Cubs to sign him without emptying their pockets..
Current Starting Pitchers: Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster Matt Garza, Randy Wells, Andrew Cashner, Doug Davis, Rodrigo Lopez
Chances of Being with the club in 2012:
Carlos Zambrano: 100%
Ryan Dempster: 75%
Matt Garza: 100%
Randy Wells: 100%
Andrew Cashner: 100%
Doug Davis: 0%
Rodrigo Lopez: 0%
Potential Free Agent Signings: Mark Buerhle, Justin Duchscherer, Jeff Francis, Freddy Garcia, Edwin Jackson, Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis, Brad Penny, Joel Pineiro, C.J. Wilson
Predicted Starting Rotation in 2012:
As much as people want to debate, Carlos Zambrano isn't going anywhere. He has a full no-trade clause, and it would be absolutely absurd to trade away one of your organization's best, most consistent pitchers.
If they were to trade Zambrano away, they would have nothing to build their starting rotation around, and would just be creating more questions for themselves.
Ryan Dempster has a $14 million player option, but the Cubs fully expect him to exercise it. It would be crazy for Dempster not to take the option, he's having a terrible season and won't be offered that kind of money elsewhere.
The only way Dempster isn't coming back next season is if the Cubs trade him before the deadline, but don't expect that to happen.
The Cubs traded a bunch of future prospects for Matt Garza, and it is very unlikely he will be moved in the near future.
Despite their health concerns, Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner will be expected to occupy the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation.
The biggest concern for the Cubs is finding a fifth starter who can be consistent and who won't come at a steep price.
It's never a bad idea to have too many good pitchers on a team, and the Cubs are finding this out the hard way. It would be wise for the Cubs to sign two starting pitchers in the offseason, and to go with a six-man rotation to put less pressure on the young arms of Cashner and Wells.
The best bets for the Cubs would be finding veterans like Livan Hernandez or Brad Penny to secure the fifth spot if Cashner can't perform up to his expectations. The Cubs might also sign a promising starting pitcher like Jeff Francis or Joel Pineiro.
Current Relief Pitchers: Kerry Wood, Carlos Marmol, Marcus Mateo, John Grabow, James Russell, Jeff Samardzija, Sean Marshall
Chances of being with the Club in 2012:
Kerry Wood: 50%
Carlos Marmol: 100%
Marcus Mateo: 100%
John Grabow: 0%
James Russell: 100%
Jeff Samardzija: 100%
Sean Marshall: 100%
Potential Free Agent Signings: Mike Gonzalez, Juan Cruz, Chris Ray
Bullpen Prediction for 2012:
Outside of Kerry Wood, Carlos Marmol, and Sean Marshall, the Cubs bullpen has been atrocious.
Marmol is the teams closer for years to come, and Sean Marshall is their setup pitcher for the foreseeable future.
The question is, will Kerry Wood come back to Chicago at a discounted price? Wood will demand more money this offseason, because he's once again enjoying a healthy and successful campaign.
The Cubs should (and will) offer Wood a contract extension.
The only reason we'll see James Russell and Marcus Mateo on the Cubs roster is because they'll be in their minor league system.
Jeff Samradzija has one more year left on his contract and he has a full no-trade clause. He won't be going anywhere.
John Grabow was supposed to be the missing link in the Cubs bullpen, but he hasn't been a factor yet during his career in Chicago. The Cubs will gladly look for suitors for him at the trade deadline.
There aren't many solid relievers on the free-agent market in 2012, but I do expect the Cubs try to resign former Cub Juan Cruz.
The Cubs still have Angel Guzman, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, and he should be ready for the 2012 season.
The Cubs will most likely look to their farm system to help find a middle reliever.