Wednesday, March 16, 2011

MLB 30 in 30: Chicago Cubs

The Cubs have been an interesting team. They made the playoffs in 2007 and 2008, only to make quick exits. And with an aging lineup and high payroll, things weren't looking too bright for this team. Then, along came Mike Quade, and things became brighter. Now, with some fresh faces, can the Cubs return to the playoffs, or better yet for Cubbie fans, end the 102 year drought?

What they Have: They did make some nice acquisitions in the offseason. One was 1B Carlos Pena, from Tampa Bay. He is getting older, and may be in decline, but he still has the potential to put up impressive numbers. The rest of the infield is decent, with 2B Blake DeWitt, SS Starlin Castro, and 3B Aramis Ramirez. Together, they can put up some nice offensive numbers, despite Ramirez's injury issues of the past few seasons. The outfield is the best part of this team. Alfonso Soriano may be older, but he can still hit with the best, and the Cubs also have CF Marlon Byrd, and RF Kosuke Fukudome. The offense overall is a good unit, with some age and injury problems mixed in. The rotation got a boost with the acquisition of Matt Garza from Tampa Bay. He may become the clear anchor for the rotation, and that will help a Cubs rotation that struggled plenty last season. Carlos Zambrano is still a good pitcher, but his anger problems may overshadow that. Ryan Dempster is good, but inconsistent. Randy Wells and Carlos Silva fill out the rest of the rotation. The bullpen is also decent, with closer Carlos Marmol, and the return of former Cub Kerry Wood to the team. Young pitcher Andrew Cashner will help the bullpen, along with Sean Marshall and others.

What they Don't Have: They aren't the youngest team in baseball, and even with some youth coming along, they aren't getting younger. Add together the youth that was shipped to Tampa, the team is getting older with little relief in sight. Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez had injury problems, and the pitching rotation behind Matt Garza is inconsistent at best. The Cubs will need an injury free season for most of their key guys, and help from the troublesome rotation in order to succeed. Blake DeWitt is likely not the answer at 2B, and Geovanny Soto isn't the best catcher either.

Any Help Coming? The best prospect in the Cubs system was RHP Chris Archer, but he was shipped to Tampa. Behind him, there is some talent left, like in OF Brett Jackson. He is a 5 tool athlete, and he can hit for power too. RHP Chris Carpenter (No relation to the Cardinals Chris Carpenter), is a flamethrower, and could become a good reliever at the major league level. RHP Trey McNutt is the other interesting prospect for the Cubs, and has good primary pitches in his fastball and slider, but needs work with his other pitches.

Outlook? Decent. With the NL Central as competitive as it is, the Cubs have a chance to threaten the Reds for the NL Central crown. But, the age factor isn't in their favor, and the starting rotation may still be a bit too inconsistent. Mike Quade is a fantastic manager, and he did a great job with the Cubs last season. He'll need to do that again for the Cubs to make the playoffs.

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