For fans of the Chicago Cubs, change is a good thing.
After years of indefensible contracts (I’m looking at you, Mr. Soriano), draft picks who didn’t quite pan out and underwhelming season after underwhelming season, a new ownership group has a chance to breathe new life into one of baseball’s signature franchises in 2012.
What form the Cubs roster will take next season is anyone’s guess. The Ricketts family could continue the policy of carefree expenditures that has been partially responsible for the Cubs' recent failures, or they could take a more measured, less flashy approach to building a team. They could also combine the two strategies and land a big-name free agent or two to tide fans over while a new generation develops.
Here is a totally unsubstantiated prognostication of what the 2012 Cubs lineup will look like on Opening Day.
Castro is the Cubs' one legitimate star in the making. After finishing fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2010, Castro improved nearly every aspect of his game and was voted to the All-Star team in 2011.
Although he hasn’t shown much pop in his young career, Castro is easily Chicago’s most balanced (and most promising) young hitter. He is the guy the Cubs will be building around in coming years.
In short, Castro isn’t going anywhere. Expect him to anchor the Cubs lineup for the foreseeable future.
Although Barney hasn’t displayed the clear star-in-the-making potential that Castro has flashed, Chicago’s second-year utility infielder has shown his own fair share of promise.
The young combination of Castro and Barney at the top of the Cubs lineup will experience growing pains to be sure, but they will also be good enough to justify Chicago’s faith in them.
In Barney and Castro, the Cubs have two young, (mostly) defensively solid infielders with batting averages around .300 in 2011 and OPS's over .660. Not a bad foundation to build around in the Windy City.
This is where things get dicey for the Cubs.
Aramis Ramirez would, in all reality, be the best option the Cubs could hope for in the No. 3 spot. He won’t garner anything close to the huge contract he got when he last hit the trade market, and by all accounts he has remained fairly popular in Chicago despite his ups and downs.
But I honestly believe the Cubs are going to try to sign a big name to anchor their lineup. And a big name will cost big money. And spending big money on one guy doesn’t leave even mid-level money for Aramis Ramirez.
So the Cubs will start the 2012 season with Marlon Byrd hitting third. He may not be the ideal option, but Chicago could do worse…especially with this big man stepping into the cleanup role…
By starting Barney and Castro, the Cubs are showing a definite commitment to letting their young players get innings under their belts.
But let’s be honest, a roster full of kids isn’t going to be competitive in the NL Central anytime soon.
But a team full of kids hitting around a premier offensive talent like Prince Fielder? That’s a whole different story.
Say what you want about the contracts the Cubs have handed out, however you can’t say that they have been afraid to spend money on what they see as top-level talent. I realize that there are new owners in town. I realize that there is speculation that the Cubs won’t bid on Pujols and Fielder, and will focus on a grassroots approach to development.
But baseball is the rare sport in which large-market, nationally recognizable teams have a true advantage. And teams like the Cubs are foolish not to use this advantage. While the rest of the roster will be built somewhat slowly, the Cubs will make a splash in the free-agent market, and they will do so by signing Prince Fielder to an exorbitant contract.
The Cubs aren’t getting rid of this guy anytime soon.
Geovany Soto has been alternately decent and terrible every year since 2008.
In ’08 .285/.364/.504 with 23 HR and 86 RBI.
In 2009: .218/.321/.381/11/47.
By this totally nonsensical logic (that Soto has his best seasons in even-numbered years), he is due for a nice 2012.
Like anyone would, Soto will benefit from the presence of Prince Fielder in the middle of the lineup. He will have more opportunities to hit with men on base and in scoring position. He will also be facing pitchers who have just had to stress over one of the best hitters in the game instead of ones who have just breezed through the heart of an order.
All in all, things will be much easier for Soto and the rest of the Cubbies lineup in 2012.
This is the price you pay for signing Prince Fielder to a big-money deal.
Mark DeRosa is done at this point. But the free-agent market for third basemen is slim, and there won’t be too much cash to go around given the amount that a perennial All-Star/Scott Boras client will cost. DeRosa had some prototypical Mark DeRosa seasons in Chicago, and he should be remembered at least somewhat fondly.
Eventually, Darwin Barney or another young prospect might (actually, almost definitely will) replace the veteran third baseman, but on Opening Day in 2012, a massive stopgap named Mark DeRosa will be seen manning the hot corner for the Cubs.
Colvin will continue to be a part of Chicago’s quasi-youth movement next season.
He is a former first-round draft pick out of Clemson, and although he hasn’t shown much offensively at the major league level, he will have plenty of opportunity to grow with the Cubs. In a related story, the Cubs also have no other steady, realistic options in right field.
I predict that by midseason Colvin will be working on his swing in the minors. But the Cubs have nothing to lose by checking his development firsthand in the bigs to begin the season.
Garza is the Cubs' best starting pitcher, and will be taking the hill come Opening Day, 2012.