Complete Chicago Cubs 2013 Season Preview

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 14, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JUNE 8: Starlin Castro #13 of the Chicago Cubs hits a two run home run against the Minnesota Twins during the fifth inning on June 8, 2012 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

2012 Record: 61-101 (fifth in NL Central, missed postseason)

Key Additions

SP Edwin Jackson (FA), SP Scott Baker (FA), SP Scott Feldman (FA), SP Carlos Villanueva (FA), RP Kyuji Fujikawa (FA), RP Hisanori Takahashi (FA), OF Scott Hairston (FA), OF Nate Schierholtz (FA), IF/OF Brent Lillibridge (FA), C Dioner Navarro (FA), RP Dontrelle Willis (FA), OF Darnell McDonald (FA), OF Brian Bogusevic (FA), SP Zach Putnam (Waivers)

Key Losses

1B Bryan LaHair (Release), SP Chris Volstad (Waivers), SP Randy Wells (FA), RP Manny Corpas (FA), OF Joe Mather (FA), UT Blake DeWitt (FA)

Projected Starting Lineup

1. CF David DeJesus (.263/.350/.403, 9 HR, 50 RBI, 76 R)

2. RF Nate Schierholtz (.257/.321/.407, 6 HR, 21 RBI, 20 R)

3. 1B Anthony Rizzo (.285/.342/.463, 15 HR, 48 RBI, 44 R)

4. LF Alfonso Soriano (.262/.322/.499, 32 HR, 108 RBI, 68 R)

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5. SS Starlin Castro (.283/.323/.430, 14 HR, 78 RBI, 78 R)

6. 3B Ian Stewart (.201/.292/.335, 5 HR, 17 RBI, 16 R)

7. C Welington Castillo (.265/.337/.418, 5 HR, 22 RBI, 16 R)

8. 2B Darwin Barney (.254/.299/.354, 7 HR, 44 RBI, 73 R)

Lineup Overview

The Cubs' lineup is an interesting collection of veteran stopgap options and legitimate building blocks for the future.

The 22-year-old Castro is already the face of the franchise at this point, and he has already racked up 529 hits at the big league level. His power should continue to develop moving forward, and he could be a perennial 20/20 guy in his prime. His defense also took a step forward last season, and he should only get better as he matures.

Joining him up the middle is Barney, who may have been the worst everyday player in the National League in 2012 from an offensive standpoint, but who took home the Gold Glove for his defensive efforts. If he can boost his slash line to something like .275/.315/.375, he'll be more than suitable as the long-term answer at second base. As things stand, though, he could be pushed by prospect Junior Lake, among others.

The other key piece of the team's future is Rizzo, who was acquired last offseason for hard-throwing right-hander Andrew Cashner.

Rizzo destroyed Triple-A pitching last season to the tune of .342/.405/.696 with 23 home runs and 62 RBI in 70 games, before finally earning the call-up on June 26. He has the makings of a perennial 30-homer, 100-RBI guy, and he could anchor the team's lineup for the next decade.

From there, however, the lineup is a crapshoot. Soriano turned in perhaps his best season with the Cubs last year, but the team has still aggressively shopped him and the two years, $36 million he has remaining on his deal.

DeJesus, Schierholtz and Hairston are simply keeping things warm until guys like Brett Jackson, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler are ready to make an impact in the majors. All three will likely be trade bait at the deadline.

Castillo will get a crack at locking down the catching job long-term after the team dealt Geovany Soto at the deadline last year, while Stewart will get one more chance to prove he still has something to offer at third base after what was essentially a lost season last year.

Projected Bench

C Dioner Navarro (.290/.306/.449, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 6 R)

IF/OF Brent Lillibridge (.195/.250/.274, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 25 R)

IF/OF Luis Valbuena (.219/.310/.340, 4 HR, 28 RBI, 26 R)

OF Scott Hairston (.263/.299/.504, 20 HR, 57 RBI, 52 R)

OF Dave Sappelt (.275/.351/.449, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 8 R)

Bench Overview

Hairston had more home runs last season than everyone on the Cubs outside of Soriano, and he'll platoon with Schierholtz in right field to open the season. He's always crushed left-handed pitching (.276/.325/.500 career, .286/.317/.550 in 2012), and he could wind up being a solid bargain at the two years, $5 million he signed for.

Navarro will compete with Steve Clevenger for the backup catcher job. An All-Star with the Rays back in 2008, Navarro has appeared in just 136 games with 369 at-bats over the past three seasons combined.

Lillibridge had 13 home runs and 10 stolen bases as a super utility guy for the White Sox in 2011, but he struggled to do much of anything offensively last year while splitting his season among Chicago, Boston and Cleveland.

Valbuena saw the lion's share of the playing time at third base after Stewart was shelved, and while his average was abysmal, he does have solid on-base skills and makes consistent contact.

Sappelt, who was acquired from the Reds in the Sean Marshall trade last offseason, impressed in a 26-game audition at the end of last season, after having hit .266/.314/.376 with seven home runs and 15 steals in 500 Triple-A at-bats. He's nothing more than a fourth outfielder moving forward.

Projected Rotation

1. RHP Matt Garza (18 GS, 5-7, 3.91 ERA, 96 K, 103.2 IP)

2. RHP Jeff Samardzija (28 GS, 9-13, 3.81 ERA, 180 K, 174.2 IP)

3. RHP Edwin Jackson (31 GS, 10-11, 4.03 ERA, 168 K, 189.2 IP)

4. RHP Scott Feldman (29 G, 21 GS, 6-11, 5.09 ERA, 96 K, 123.2 IP)

5. RHP Carlos Villanueva (38 G, 16 GS, 7-7, 4.16 ERA, 122 K, 125.1 IP)

DL. RHP Scott Baker (did not play - Tommy John surgery)

Rotation Overview

Cubs starting pitchers combined for a 4.52 ERA last season, which ranked 23rd in all of baseball and ahead of only Houston and Colorado in the National League.

As such, pitching was their main focus this offseason, and they added four capable arms who should at least give them a fighting chance this season.

The biggest addition was Jackson, who signed a four-year, $52 million deal. He's not a staff ace, but he's as consistent and durable as they come, having averaged 11 wins and 193 innings pitched over the past six seasons. He joins Garza and Samardzija atop the rotation, and he'll likely be the team's No. 2 starter by season's end, with Garza expected to be moved.

Entering his final year of team control, Garza likely would have been moved last offseason had it not been for an arm injury that ended his season in late July. Extending him is certainly still a possibility, but if the two sides can't come to terms, he's sure to be shopped come July.

Samardzija, on the other hand, enjoyed a breakout season in his first full year as a starter, and if he can build off of his 2012 performance, he could be the ace of the staff long-term.

Filling out the rest of the staff are Feldman and Villanueva, both of whom split last season between the rotation and bullpen (with mixed results), and Baker, who is likely to start the season on the DL. Much like Paul Maholm last year, those guys could be flipped for prospects if they have strong first halves. Baker and Feldman signed one-year deals, while Villanueva was brought on for two seasons.

There is not much in the way of reinforcements at the minor league level should injuries strike. Brooks Raley and Chris Rusin got their feet wet last season, but they are nothing more than organizational depth.

Projected Bullpen

CL Carlos Marmol (61 G, 3-3, 20 SV, 3.42 ERA, 11.7 K/9)

SU Kyuji Fujikawa (48 G, 2-2, 24 SV, 1.32 ERA, 10.9 K/9 in Japan)

SU Shawn Camp (80 G, 3-6, 2 SV, 3.59 ERA, 6.3 K/9)

MR James Russell (77 G, 7-1, 2 SV, 3.25 ERA, 7.1 K/9)

MR Michael Bowden (32 G, 0-0, 2.95 ERA, 7.3 K/9)

MR Hisanori Takahashi (51 G, 0-3, 5.54 ERA, 9.3 K/9)

LR Hector Rondon (4 G, 0-0, 1.29 ERA, 11.6 K/9 in minors)

Bullpen Overview

The Carlos Marmol roller coaster will continue in 2013, though he was nearly traded to the Angels for right-hander Dan Haren this offseason.

Due $9.8 million in the final year of his contract, Marmol could be on the move at the deadline with a strong first half. The devastating slider is still there, and if he can lower his walk rate a bit (7.3 walks per nine innings in 2012), he could once again be a premier closer.

The team found its replacement for Marmol in Fujikawa, signing him to a two-year, $9.5 million deal after he spent the past 14 seasons with the Hanshin Tigers in Japan. The 32-year-old has piled up 220 saves, a 1.77 ERA and 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings during his career in Japan, and if nothing else, he should lock down the eighth inning role.

Camp was re-signed to a one-year, $1.35 million deal after leading the NL in appearances last season, and he'll be back alongside left-hander Russell, who has quietly emerged as one of the best lefty relievers in the game.

Bowden, who was acquired from the Red Sox for Marlon Byrd last season, is a former top prospect who could settle into a key bullpen role with his terrific fastball/curveball combo.

Takahashi was signed to a minor league deal and will have every chance to win a roster spot this spring, while Rondon was selected from the Tigers in the Rule 5 draft. Tommy John surgery and a fractured elbow have limited him to just 13 appearances over the past three seasons, but he throws in the high 90s and could make a major impact if healthy.

Prospect to Watch

CF Brett Jackson

Jackson entered last season as the No. 32 prospect in baseball according to Baseball America and made his big league debut on August 5. He's a potential 20/20 threat as a big league regular, but strikeouts continue to be an issue. He whiffed 158 times in 407 at-bats at Triple-A Iowa, then fanned a whopping 59 times in just 120 at-bats in Chicago.

According to MLB.com, the 24-year-old Jackson has retooled his swing this offseason and could see drastic improvement in the season ahead. If that's the case, the Cubs won't hesitate to hand him the everyday center field job and move veteran David DeJesus. In fact, a strong spring could earn Jackson the everyday job out of camp.

Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora may all have higher ceilings in the Cubs organization, but it's Jackson who is most likely to make a significant impact among the Cubs' top prospects in 2013.

Final Thoughts/Predictions

As the full-scale rebuilding process continues in Chicago, it will likely be another long season for the Cubs.

Improving the starting rotation should be enough for them to improve on last season's 101-loss campaign, but with the Astros moving to the AL West, Chicago will be hard-pressed to avoid a last-place finish in the NL Central this coming season.

The farm system has some terrific top-end talent and should continue to get better as the Cubs again look to deal veteran pieces at the trade deadline.

By 2015, the Cubs could be in a position to contend with a fantastic young core of hitters. For the time being, though, Cubs fans will need to continue to be patient as Theo Epstein and company lay the groundwork for sustained success.

Predicted Record

67-95 (fifth in NL Central, miss playoffs)


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