Chicago Cubs: 10 Reasons to Still Watch the Team in 2012
The team that won back-to-back division titles in 2007 and 2008 has become a mess.
However, a rebuilding operation is underway, and it will be more exciting and rewarding to watch than their recent downfall was.
While the Cubs will not likely be an October force in 2012, there are still plenty of reasons to watch this young club develop.
Here are ten reasons to watch the Cubs in 2012..
Starlin Castro's offensive stats in 2011 look impressive at first glance, but a closer look will expose much room to improve.
His league-leading 207 hits and .307 batting average show that he is a good pure hitter. But Castro also led the league in at-bats, so while he led the league in hits, he also finished first in outs made.
Furthermore, Castro's .341 on-base percentage, while certainly not terrible, needs to improve if he wants to become one of the best players in the major leagues.
The biggest thing working against Castro is his defense. He led the league in errors last year, posting a -1.6 dWAR.
Still, Castro's speed and range lend him serious defensive potential, and his hitting ability is already obvious.
Darwin Barney performed very well at the beginning of last season, but could not maintain his hot start.
Though Barney finished with respectable numbers, he enters 2012 as a question mark, if not a risk.
If Barney is to be a top of the order hitter, he needs to improve his ineffective .313 on-base percentage. Barney only walked in 3.9 percent of his at-bats, so more selectivity could help his game a lot.
Barney is young, fast and can hit, so he could potentially become a mainstay in the middle infield.
It remains to be seen whether he can live up to his ability.
The Cubs have had many frustrating players in recent years, and Carlos Marmol is certainly one of them.
In terms of pure talent, Marmol could be one of the elite pitchers in the game. However, his dazzling stuff has not always translated into saves.
His 10 blown saves last season severely hurt the Cubs' morale, momentum and position in the standings.
Still, Marmol's 2008 and 2010 campaigns show that he can be masterful. It could go either way in 2012.
Perhaps Marmol can find a way to maintain his confidence and become a perennial force in the bullpen.
Andrew Cashner has been one of the most hyped young players in the Cubs organization for some time.
Cashner pitched well enough in spring training to earn a spot in the rotation last year, but a shoulder injury cut his season short after just one start.
It remains to be seen then, whether Cashner can become a convincing major league starter. He has the stuff, and at 25 years old, he could be in the rotation for years to come.
Who's on First?
One of the most glaring holes in the Cubs' lineup is first base.
Rumors flew about Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, but the Cubs do not seem poised to make big moves quite yet.
Though Fielder is still a possibility, chances of him coming to Chicago are becoming more and more remote.
While some may regard anything less than Fielder as a disappointment, the Cubs could potentially find a long-term first baseman in Bryan LaHair, who performed well in limited at-bats for the club last year.
Highly touted Padres prospect Anthony Rizzo has also been the subject of rumors involving the Cubs; he will be an intriguing player to watch wherever he lands.
One of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer's biggest acquisitions this offseason is Dale Sveum. The new manager will have a lot to do with the new look Cubs' presence and style of play.
As the Epstein era begins, the Cubs need to find a new identity.
Can Sveum inspire his veterans and push his younger players toward higher standards? The Cubs are painfully lacking in fundamental skills; they had the worst fielding percentage in the MLB last year.
Even worse, many players, from Aramis Ramirez to Castro, seemed uninspired to the point of apathy.
This will need to change if the Cubs want to eventually contend, and Sveum has the opportunity to enforce a different attitude.
Underachieving Veterans May Bring in Prospects
All indications suggest that the Cubs are going younger and less expensive, which means that Carlos Zambrano, Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd and Ryan Dempster may be nearing the end of their time in Chicago.
The question is: Can Epstein and Hoyer maximize their gains from these players?
It is all but certain that the Cubs will be sellers at this year's trade deadline. The Cubs could acquire more prospects, setting the club up for a deep roster and a sustainable place among contending teams.
The Cubs Are Going Young and Fast
Although the Cubs are not likely to contend in 2012, it should be refreshing to watch this edition of the Cubs break away from the identity of former teams.
The Cubs will be much younger and faster than they have been in recent years.
The lackluster and sometimes apathetic play of some veterans—Soriano, Zambrano and Ramirez—became an albatross for the Cubs in 2011.
While the 2012 Cubs may not be a powerhouse, they just might bring hard-nosed and energetic baseball back to Wrigley Field.
A Leader Could Emerge
The Cubs have not had a true face of the franchise since Derrek Lee. Every great team in any sport has a leader, and the Cubs will need someone to take control of the clubhouse.
Castro is the obvious candidate for this position, as he is a dynamic and likable young player. However, he may not have the maturity or interest required to take on a leading role on this young team.
Sometimes leaders develop from unlikely sources, and the position will be up for grabs in 2012.
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer's Plan Begins in 2012
2012 will give us our first chance to see Epstein and Hoyer's master plan in action.
Will recent pickups David DeJesus, Ian Stewart and Travis Wood turn out to be valuable acquisitions?
Will any new prospects make their way to the major league?
So far, the Cubs' front office has been making small and careful moves. This alone caused many fans to be disappointed, and it will only get worse if the new acquisitions do not perform.
Depending on the Cubs' 2012 performance, Epstein may find Chicago to be a quick tempered town, or he might gain patient support.