The Chicago Cubs returned to the playoffs in 2007 for the first time since the Steve Bartman fiasco of 2003. While they were forced into an early exit, it was a successful season for the Cubbies. A few high impact youngsters burst onto the scene, and some reliable veterans turned in excellent seasons. There wasn’t much turnover during the off season in Chicago, but that doesn’t mean that the Cubs are without some question marks. The bullpen lacks defined roles, and the back end of the pitching rotation has plenty of candidates. Regardless of these questions, there are quite a few Cubs to target in the early rounds of your fantasy draft.
Alfonso Soriano (OF): While Alfonso Soriano may not be as valuable as he was when he played second base, he’s still an elite fantasy contributor. Few players have the power and speed combination that Soriano possesses. He was somewhat disappointing in 2007 following a 40-40 season in ‘06 with the Nationals, but showed flashes of his usual greatness. A hamstring injury sidelined him for much of the latter part of the season, and really hampered his ability to steal bases at his normal rate. Lou Piniella’s inability to find a definitive spot in the lineup for Soriano also contributed to some of his struggles. Regardless of all his troubles, he still managed a .299 average, 33 HR’s, 70 RBI, and 19 SB’s in 135 games. As long as Soriano is back to full health, I would expect a substantial hike in RBI and stolen bases in ‘08.
Aramis Ramirez (3B): Ramirez is just one of many examples of how inept the Pittsburgh Pirates organization is. This guy has become a bona fide star in the league, and the Cubs are more than happy to have him in the heart of their order. Ramirez experienced a slight dip in production in 2007, but that can be attributed to his missing 30 games due to injury. He still managed a .310 average, 26 HR’s, and 101 RBI. Given he can stay healthy, he should return to his 35 HR, 110 RBI form in 2008. If you miss out on a top tier third baseman, don’t feel too bad, because you’ll get elite production at a discounted price out of Ramirez.
Derrek Lee (1B): Coming off a serious wrist injury, Derrek Lee had a productive season in 2007, but there was a noticeable part of his game missing. That part was his power stroke. It’s hard to say whether the wrist injury had an effect on his power, or if those 46 homeruns in 2005 were an aberration. I tend to say the truth lies somewhere in the middle. He’ll never reach 40 homeruns, but I feel like he has at least 30 homerun power. His other stats were there in the 2007 though. A .317 average, 22 HR’s, 82 RBI, and 6 SB’s is nothing to sneeze at. I would think another year removed from his injury would do nothing but improve his chances of returning to form. Expect an average in the .300’s, 30 HR’s, and 100 RBI at great value.
Carlos Zambrano (SP): After a slow start, Carlos Zambrano rolled to yet another solid season in Chicago. After finally getting the extension he was looking for, Zambrano should be focused on the task at hand. While his 3.95 ERA in 2007 was the highest of his career, Zambrano still managed 18 victories and 177 strikeouts. One area of concern is that Zambrano has thrown at least 200 innings in 5 straight seasons. Zambrano is a workhorse though, and his arm is young enough to take the abuse. Zambrano is the undisputed ace of the Cubs’ staff, and they’ll need him to perform in order to have a successful season. I would expect Zambrano’s usual season in 2008 now that he’s completely distraction free.
Rich Hill (SP): A huge question for the Cubs going into the 2007 season was if their pitching rotation would be deep enough without Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. The answer ended up being yes, in large part because of the emergence of the electric young lefty Rich Hill. While Hill only posted an 11-8 record, he accumulated a 3.92 ERA, and 183 K’s in 195 innings. I can only see Hill improving upon his numbers, especially since 2007 was his first true full season. Any pitcher who can strikeout almost a batter per inning is definitely worth owning on your fantasy team.
Ted Lilly (SP): Ted Lilly experienced quite a renaissance in 2007, his first with the Cubs. It’s pretty clear that all Lilly needed was a change of scenery to play up to his full potential. His ongoing quarrel with Blue Jays manager John Gibbons undoubtedly affected his play. Lilly seems like a slightly older, more experienced Rich Hill. The reason I rank him lower is because of Hill’s high ceiling and capability to continue to improve. It’s possible that 2007 is the high water mark of Lilly’s career, but he’s still worth a roster spot. His 15-8 record, 3.83 ERA, and 174 K’s in ‘07 was highly unexpected, but he won’t come at such a low price this time around. If you take him, don’t expect an improvement upon his career year.
Kosuke Fukudome (OF): While every expert thinks they can predict what Fukudome’s production will be at the major league level, these Japanese imports are never a sure thing. This is especially true following Daisuke Matsuzaka’s struggles last season, even though he was anointed the next Cy Young by many. A better comparison can be made with Kaz Matsui who struggled mightily as a positional player in a big market. One thing I do know is that power does not seem to translate from the Japanese league to the MLB. I see Fukudome putting up numbers that are similar to a guy like Randy Winn in his prime. Project a .300 average, 12-15 HR’s, 70 RBI, 90 runs, and 10-15 steals hitting in the 2 hole for the Cubbies.
Bob Howry (RP): Howry filled in admirably at closer while Ryan Dempster was injured in 2007. Because of his performance, he may have the inside track to win the closer’s job in ‘08. Nothing is for sure, however, so it’s a situation that has to be monitored very closely. Howry won 6 games in ‘07, along with a 3.32 ERA, 8 saves, and 72 K’s in 81.1 innings. If I were Lou Piniella, I’d give the job to the experienced Howry, but nobody really knows what will happen. If he wins the job, he’ll be a great value pick.
Kerry Wood (RP): Who knows with this guy anymore. People are still hoping for his 2003 production, but it is now 2008. It’s time to stop living in the past. Kerry Wood will never be the dominant starter he once was, but there is still a chance he could regain some form of relevance. In 22 appearances out of the bullpen last season, Wood posted a 3.33 ERA and K’ed 24 in 24.1 innings. With the current uncertainty in the Cubs bullpen, Wood has a shot to secure the role of closer. I have a word of warning though. Even if he does win the job, he’s obviously very fragile, so have your finger on the add button next to Carlos Marmol or Bob Howry if Wood goes down yet again.
Carlos Marmol (RP): Marmol really came into his own in 2007. As a set-up man Marmol was just lights out. He’s definitely the closer of the future, but the question remains: Is the future now? As I highlighted earlier, the Cubs’ closer situation is very murky and difficult to predict. The most talented of the candidates has to be Marmol, but it doesn’t seem to mean he’ll get the job. Marmol went 5-1 with a 1.43 ERA, and an incredible 96 K’s in 69.1 innings. Even if Marmol doesn’t secure the closer’s role, I’d still draft him and either stash him on my bench or use him as a reliever since his stats certainly won’t hurt you. It’s just a matter of time before Marmol develops into a top flight closer.
Felix Pie (OF): Pie was wildly inconsistent and failed to impress in his rookie campaign. He was on a shuttle from Chicago to AAA Iowa during 2007, and that had to have a negative effect on his play. Pie has too much talent to be cast aside though. In 87 games Pie posted a .215 average, 2 HR’s, 20 RBI, and 8 SB’s in ‘07. I’d expect Pie to improve upon his batting average significantly, and at the very least be a cheap source of 25-30 steals. Pie may not be a great option for 2008, but keep a close tab on him.
Geovany Soto ( C ): Soto came out of nowhere late in the 2007 season to take the reigns at the catcher position. In just 18 games Soto hit .389 with 3 HR’s and 8 RBI. People are very high on Soto coming into the 2008 season, so he won’t come cheaply. He has a chance to vault himself into second tier status if he continues swinging the hot bat he wielded late last season. If you miss out on the top catchers, Soto is a great guy to target as his potential is just limitless.
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