Chicago Cubs Rumors: Projecting the Opening Day Lineup

Matt TruebloodSenior Analyst IDecember 7, 2011

Chicago Cubs Rumors: Projecting the Opening Day Lineup

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    Two days into the MLB Winter Meetings, the Chicago Cubs haven't done much to make waves or news. Thus is life at the annual baseball swap meet/job fair/drinking game.

    Manager Dale Sveum, however, managed to drop a juicy tidbit or two during his latest confab with the media.

    Sveum hinted at some elements of his Opening Day lineup, making special note of the cases of Starlin Castro and David DeJesus, per Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune. Those two men will be key cogs in the lineup in 2012, and given the state of the Cubs' pitching staff, there will be plenty of pressure on the offense.

    Here is a projection, based on some reasonable assumptions, of the Opening Day lineup in 2012.

1. David DeJesus, RF

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    This was the most exciting and unexpected takeaway from Sveum's conversation with Sullivan and others. He mentioned that as the roster is currently constructed, DeJesus (owner of a .356 career on-base percentage) is their best prototypical leadoff hitter.

    The days of batting Darwin Barney and Corey Patterson types in that slot, it seems, are over.

    DeJesus posted a meager .323 OBP in Oakland last season, but should get a big boost from the move to Wrigley Field.

2. Starlin Castro, SS

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    After finishing 2011 on a 40-game on-base streak batting atop the order, Starlin Castro looked in line to have that job at least to open 2012. As Sveum alluded to, though, the DeJesus signing takes that pressure off Castro.

    Maturation is the name of the game for Castro. He will be 22 a few weeks before Opening Day, and a lot is expected of him in terms of continued development into the Cubs' top threat. There's nothing wrong with scaling those heights, but Castro must be careful not to approach his plate appearances too ambitiously.

    At his best, he is more of a gap-power, contact-oriented shooter than a power-hungry lunger. Batting Castro second encourages the sort of approach that best serves both the player's development and the team's needs.

3. Marlon Byrd, LF

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    Though currently slated for center field, Marlon Byrd is getting a bit old for that role.

    The Cubs need not phrase it that way, of course: It would take a huge bite out of the potential return Byrd could command in a midseason trade.

    The move to left field could be much more subtly precipitated by a trade of the incumbent at the position, Alfonso Soriano. The Cubs will have to eat 65 percent or more of the $54 million remaining on Soriano's deal in order to get that done, but it seems as though there is interest.

    Byrd need not budge from the third spot in the lineup, though his bat is aging somewhat as well. He still has a modicum of power and a good batted-ball profile, so the team should put him in this spot to encourage success and raise his trade value.

4. Carlos Pena, 1B

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    The Albert Pujols sweepstakes roils on, but the Cubs don't seem genuinely involved. Once that situation resolves itself, there will be a battle of an only slightly lesser proportion over Prince Fielder, but the Cubs sound halfhearted in that pursuit as well.

    Carlos Pena is the incumbent. Playing on a make-good contract in 2011, he made good, bouncing back from a rough final season in Tampa Bay. His offensive numbers were typical Pena (.225/.357/.462, 28 home runs and 80 RBI), but what impressed Cubs fans most were his defense and his presence.

    Pena is an elite makeup guy, a good fit in any clubhouse, and assuming Theo Epstein and company stay out of the Fielder/Pujols fracas, he should be back in 2012.

5. Chase Headley, 3B

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    Chase Headley had a .374 OBP in 2011, despite playing in pitcher-friendly PETCO Park for the San Diego Padres. In case you're wondering, no Cubs regular has posted a .374 OBP in either of the last two seasons. 

    Headley would fill the team's most urgent positional need, and also bats left-handed. He could command a high-upside prospect like Junior Lake in trade, but if it takes only that or a little more for GM Jed Hoyer to pry Headley away from San Diego, Hoyer needs to pull the trigger.

6. Geovany Soto, C

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    There's a non-zero chance the Cubs will deal Soto yet this winter, but Welington Castillo isn't knocking down the door to the big leagues. Since Soto also doesn't represent an exorbitant expense for 2012, he probably will be around come April.

    The inconsistency that has marred Soto's career since he won the 2008 NL Rookie of the Year remains a frustration. He often struggles to stay healthy, and when he manages it, he tends to run hot and cold.

    He's still a solid catcher given the replacement offensive level for the position, but he needs to establish some constancy in 2012.

7. Darwin Barney, 2B

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    Somehow, Cubs fans got it into their heads in 2011 that Darwin Barney:

    1. Is a candidate to bat near the top of a big-league lineup;
    2. Can hit; and
    3. Has yet substantial unrealized potential

    None of that is true. Barney is 26, and he was as good in 2011 as he will ever be. However, he IS the best defensive shortstop on the roster, and given the value of his glove and his base-running skills, he still figures as a regular for this team going forward.

    Batting seventh, he can make some plays on the bases when he gets on.

8. Tony Campana, CF

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    Few people see it the same way, but Campana reminds me of Otis Nixon. Like Nixon (who had a productive MLB career of over 10 years), Campana has blinding speed, patience and plus-plus defense in center field.

    Like Nixon, he has utterly no power.

    Unlike Nixon, Campana sometimes has trouble making contact. He struck out in almost 20 percent of his plate appearances in 2011, a death knell for a player with his profile.

    Still, there's potential here. Assuming a Soriano trade does materialize, the Cubs would do better to give Campana his chance to become Nixon than to rush top prospect Brett Jackson.

    Jackson can still take over at mid-season.

9. Matt Garza, SP

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    Trade rumors have ebbed and risen like the tides over Garza this winter. He's certainly a hot commodity, and could bring back some pieces to really help the Cubs kick-start their rebuilding. The right package, though, might not be out there.

    In fact, the best trade partner for Garza is the Texas Rangers. They do need another starter, and Garza is plenty nasty enough to handle the AL West. Unless they're willing to include top third-base prospect Mike Olt and at least one solid pitcher, though, the Cubs should not pull the trigger.

    The Rangers are unlikely to do such a deal, so expect Garza to toe the rubber on Opening Day for the Cubs.