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Chicago Cubs 2013 Preview

Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo

The Cubs were as bad as a team could be in 2012, losing 101 games and looking ugly doing it. As any team with 61 wins, they have been aggressive in changing up the roster. They traded Ryan Dempster last season, would “listen” to deals for Matt Garza and have actively shopped Carlos Marmol. In the meantime, they have been stacking up on veteran arms of varying ability. They have picked up Edwin Jackson, Scott Baker, Scott Feldman, and Carlos Villanueva. They are also taking a shot at Dontrelle Willis and Hisanori Takahashi. There are likely more moves to be made but let’s take a look at what we can expect from the Cubs come Opening Day.

Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo

Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo (left) and left fielder Alfonso Soriano (12) celebrate after crossing home plate as both players scored against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the third inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA

2012 Team Rankings:

Wins: 61

Runs: 28th Overall

Batting Average: 26th Overall

ERA: 24th Overall

WHIP: 26th Overall

Catchers: Welington Castillo, Dioner Navarro, Steve Clevenger – Grade: C

The Cubs have finally rid themselves of Geovany Soto after he batted .199 for them last season. The 25-year-old Castillo is a decent improvement. He batted .265 with 5 HR and 22 RBI in 170 at-bats last season. At best he projects as a .260, 15 HR, 60 RBI guy who will strike out a ton.

Navarro is a lousy catcher who manages to stay in the league out of pure demand and necessity for lousy back up catchers. At 28, the Cubs are his fourth team in four years.

Clevenger is probably the best hitter for average of the three, though you couldn’t tell from his .201 BAA in 199 at-bats last year. He can be a decent singles hitter but at best reminds me of a (hopefully) better Josh Thole.

First Base: Anthony Rizzo, Steve Clevenger – Grade: B

The highly-touted 22-year-old Rizzo looked as phenomenal as promised in 2012, batting .285 with 15 HR, 48 RBI, and 44 R in just 337 at-bats. If all goes well, you might be looking at the next Joey Votto.

Second Base: Darwin Barney, Luis Valbuena – Grade: C

Barney is good with the glove but is really just a singles hitter at bat. In 2012, he batted .254 with 7 HR, 44 RBI, 73 R but doesn’t hit many extra-base hits nor does he walk.

Valbuena has spent nine years in the minors, never particularly impressing anyone in anything. He has decent pop and could hit for average—but has thus far batted .224 with 17 HR in 319 MLB games since 2008.

Shortstop: Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney– Grade: B+

At 23, Castro is developing into a pretty good shortstop. In 2012, he batted .283 with 14 HR, 78 RBI, 78 R, 12 3B, and 25 SB. Expect him to only get better going forward.

Third Base: Ian Stewart, Josh Vitters, Luis Valbuena – Grade: D

In theory, Ian Stewart is the starter, despite batting .201 with 5 HR and 17 RBI in 180 at-bats last year. In reality, the Cubs desperately want former top prospect Josh Vitters to take over as soon as possible.

Vitters isn’t as good as the Cubs once hoped he would be but at 23 he has shown solid pop and ability to hit for average, even if he never walks.

Outfield: Alfonso Soriano, David DeJesus, Nate Schierholtz, Tony Campana, Dave Sappelt – Grade: D+

The 37-year-old Soriano looked like he was a 20-something playing for the Yankees all over again. Playing the most games he’s seen since 2006, Soriano batted .262 with 32 HR, 108 RBI (a career-high), and scored 68 R but it is hard to gauge how much more he has in the tank.

DeJesus and the newly signed Nate Schierholtz are as mediocre as they come. Though they can both field their position, neither can hit like a starting outfielder should.

Campana is a great speedster but not much else. Sappelt could be a good all-around outfielder but isn’t impressive in any one category.

Starting Rotation: Matt Garza, Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood, Jeff Samardzija, Scott Feldman, Scott Baker, Carlos Villanueva – Grade: B? C? D?

The Cubs may trade Garza before the season, but he is projected to be the ace right now. He isn’t really ace material and is injured a lot—but has never had an ERA over 4.00 since coming up with the Twins.

Whether Jackson is really worth $52 million is very arguable, but he is a reliable starter who will win 10+ games, put up an ERA around 4.00 and have a WHIP around 1.40.

The 27-year-old Samardzija made the transition to starter in 2012 and went 9-13 with a 3.81 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. He is a good pitcher and has the potential to be an ace in the majors.

Feldman struggled last season, going 6-11 with a 5.09 ERA and 1.38 WHIP for the Rangers. There is always the possiblity he will be more reminiscent of the 2009 Feldman who went 17-8 with a 4.08 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. Not likely though.

Baker is very injury prone but is a very good pitcher when fully healthy. He only started 21 games for the Twins in 2012 but went 8-6 with a 3.14 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. He is recovering from Tommy John surgery, however, and is expected to miss the beginning of the season.

Villanueva is a pretty underrated pitcher who typically splits time between the rotation and bullpen. He isn’t fantastic, but in 29 starts and 92 relief appearances since 2010 he is 15-11 with a 4.20 ERA and 1.27 WHIP.

Wood went 6-13 last season despite a respectable 4.27 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. While he’s a better pitcher than Feldman, many expect him to be in the bullpen and Villanueva to only start until Baker returns. I think there will be opportunities for everyone to carve out a role this spring training.

Bullpen: Carlos Marmol, Kyuji Fujikawa, James Russell, Michael Bowden, Shawn Camp, Hisanori Takahashi – Grade: C+

Like Garza, there is a good chance Marmol gets traded before the season. He didn’t close the entire season, but did go 3-3 with 20 saves and 3.42 ERA. His 1.54 WHIP is rather disturbing for a closer though.

Fujikawa was signed from the Hanshin Tigers this off-season and is one of the best Japanese relievers ever. In 10 seasons, he has 196 saves, 100 holds, 1.80 ERA, and 0.96 WHIP. There is a good chance he ends up closing if Marmol is moved.

Russel and Bowden are both very good looking young relievers who should provide a strong bridge to whoever the closer is. Camp is solid at best but plays way more often than he should.

Takahashi looked great with the Mets—but in his first season with the Angels he put up an alarming 5.54 ERA in 51 games for the Angels and Pirates. It’s hard to tell which Takahashi he will be at 38-years-old.

Team Grade: C-

Fearless Prediction: 70-92, 5th in NL Central

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