Regular Season Record: 66-96
6th in NL Central – 17 games behind the Cardinals
Home Park: Wrigley Field
Neal Cotts (RP) – Trade (Chicago White Sox)
Mark DeRosa (2B) – Free Agency (Texas Rangers)
Alfonso Soriano (OF) – Free Agency (Washington Nationals)
Ted Lilly (SP) – Free Agency (Toronto Blue Jays)
Daryle Ward (1N/OF) – Free Agency (Atlanta Braves)
Jason Marquis (SP) – Free Agency (St. Louis Cardinals)
Cliff Floyd (OF) – Free Agency (New York Mets)
Thomas Perez (IF) – Minor League Free Agency (Tampa Bay Devil Rays)
Fled the Curse:
David Aardsma (RP) – Trade (Chicago White Sox)
Juan Pierre (CF) – Free Agency (Signed with LA Dodgers)
Freddy Bynum (2B) – Trade (Baltimore Orioles)
John Mabry (OF) – Free Agency (Colorado Rockies)
Glendon Rusch (SP/RP) – Released
The Skinny: The Cubs spent roughly $300 million (trying) to turn a team that was the worst in the National League last season into a contender. On the one hand, a division title (and anything less has to be considered a failure by the front office) looks rather improbable given that the Cubs need to improve by 16 games just to get back to .500. On the other hand, the NL Central is not exactly the game’s deepest talent pool and while it will probably take more than the 83 wins that allowed the Cardinals to take the crown last year, the division could very well be won with 86 games or so. That would be a 20 game improvement, something that is anything but unheard of, even in Cubs Country. The 1967 Cubs improved 28.5 games to go from 59-103 to 87-74, which makes the current campaign look like a walk in the park. Also, they are getting first baseman Derrek Lee back, which might even make a bigger impact than the signing of Soriano.
The Cubs not only brought in new players, but a new skipper as well. Lou Pinella will hopefully bring a new attitude to Wrigley field and get a few more wins out of his new team, if only to prove that the Devil Rays’ inability to win was not his fault.
Strengths: In Lee, Soriano and the re-signed Aramis Ramirez, the Cubs have a heart of the order that belongs to the strongest in the National League (assuming that Soriano will not bat lead-off). Jacque Jones and Michael Barrett also can hit. So the offense that was second to last in 2006 should improve. In Carlos Zambrano, the have a Cy Young caliber ace, and with Lilly, strike-out-machine Rich Hill (626 K in 451.2 IP in the minors), Wade Miller and Jason Marquis they have a serviceable rotation even if Mark Prior does not make a start in 2007. Scott Eyre, Bob Howry, Michael Wuertz and Robert Novoa give Chicago solid depth in the pen.
Weaknesses: The Cubs do have some serious pop now, but more often than not, the big flies will come with nobody on. In 2006, the team posted a paltry .319 on-base-percentage and they are not likely to improve much in that category (although the return of Lee will help a tad). Dusty Baker and his dislike for the base on balls (“Clogging up the bases isn't that great to me“) is gone, but Lou Pinella has already stated that he will bat Soriano (career .325 OBP) lead-off and is thinking about letting Cesar Izturis (career .295 OBP) hit behind him. Statheads everywhere will rightfully cringe at the thought of putting the team’s worst hitter in one on the most important spots, a tradition that Dusty Baker started when he batted the inapt Neifi Perez there. Hopefully, Pinella will reconsider that. The only Cub that actually did take a few walks last year, Matt Murton, will probably be relegated to a platoon role against left handers. Another issue could be the outfield defense if Soriano is really going to play center field. Unless top prospect Felix Pie shows he’s ready in spring, the only other option is Jacque Jones, although he doesn’t have a very accurate arm, to be polite. Right now, Ryan Dempster is the Cubs’ closer. But if he pitches like in 2006, when he sported a 4.80 ERA and blew nine saves (out of only 33 opportunities), he will not be able to keep his job much longer.
1. CF: Alfonso Soriano
2. SS: Cesar Izturis
3. 1B: Derek Lee
4. 3B: Aramis Ramirez
5. RF: Jacque Jones
6. LF: Cliff Floyd / Matt Murton
7. C: Michael Barrett
8. 2B: Mark DeRosa
Keys to Success: Health is always an issue, but to the Cubs it’s even more crucial than usual, because they’ve been hit hard last year when Prior, Lee and Wood all went down. The Cubs may not lose more than one from this trio plus Ramirez and Soriano.
Every spring, analysts say that for the Cubs to go anywhere, they need 30 starts from Mark Prior. This year, it is different. No doubt that a healthy (and effective) Prior would help a great deal, but to count on that probably is just not realistic. So, a successful transition of Kerry Wood into the closer role is the real key. The Cubs can not afford to give away many victories, but they lack a dominant closer and Wood could very well fill that need.
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