The Chicago Cubs began their 2012 season this week with pitchers and catchers reporting for duty and will need a social get together for all their new players and coaches to get to know one another.
While most agree this mix of players assembled is simply a stopgap until Theo, Jed and Co. see their young core blossom into a contending team for 2013 or 2014, the team and management is referring to “building” versus rebuilding. That means, per the company line, that each season is “sacred” as Theo Epstein likes to say. Whether this season is just the beginning of “The Cubs Way” or is a washout year remains to be seen.
Yesterday, Jerod discussed seven reasons by White Sox fans should be “unreasonably optimistic” heading into Spring Training. Today it’s time to look at the other side of the city. So let’s get down to business and discuss how the Cubs of 2012 will look on the field and what exactly first-year manager Dale Sveum has to work with.
Out With The Old, In With The New
First, let’s say goodbye to the departed Cubs players from the team that finished 71-91 in the 139th season of Cubs baseball.
Check that, first is the departure and firing of manager Mike Quade, who may have been in over his head after winning over 1,000 games as a minor league manager.
Now, the long list of big name players gone from last year’s 71-win team:
- Carlos Zambrano (Miami)
- Aramis Ramirez (Milwaukee)
- Carlos Pena (Tampa Bay)
- Sean Marshall, (Cincinnati)
- Kosuke Fukudome, (White Sox)
- Andrew Cashner (San Diego).
In the fold for 2012 is new manager Dale Sveum, OF David DeJesus (Oakland), 1B Anthony Rizzo (San Diego) 3B Ian Stewart (Colorado), P Travis Wood (Cincinnati), P Chris Volstad (Florida) and P Paul Maholm.
The starting lineup should look something like this:
Projected 2012 Opening Day Lineup
1. David DeJesus, RF
Throw out his .240 average in 2011 playing in Oakland’s cavernous stadium. This guy can hit .280, play solid defense, and he runs well. Cubs fans will love his attitude and hustle.
2. Starlin Castro, SS
He may move down to the #3 hole later in the year, but for now Sveum bats him 2nd in the order. Castro is a solid hitter, as he led the NL in hits last year with 207 and batted .307 with 10 home runs. He should improve his plate discipline in Year 2 but will also need to improve defensively from 29 errors in 2011.
3. Marlon Byrd, CF
Look for a rebound year from Byrd, who struggled last year after a facial injury coming off a 2011 season in which he hit .276. He will be counted on for driving in runs and providing stability in the #3 spot. He also may be trade bait near the deadline.
4. Bryan LaHair, 1B
The wild card here, LaHair, 29, was the Pacific Coast League MVP last year and led all minor leaguers with 38 home runs. If he can produce and show off that power in the bigs, a run at Rookie of the Year is possible, while allowing top prospect Anthony Rizzo to develop.
5. Alfonso Soriano, LF
An aging Soriano still clubbed 26 home runs with 88 RBI in 2011 but also struck out 113 times while batting .244. A defensive liability in left field, Soriano needs to improve his .289 OBP or he will be dropped to #7 in the order. .250 with 25 home runs and 80 RBI is the most to expect.
6. Geovany Soto, C
Soto needs to boost his .228 performance in 2011 and get back to his .280 2010 mark. He hit 17 home runs in both 2010 and 2011, but improving on his RBI (53 in 2010, 54 in 2011) totals is a necessity for Cubs after losing run producers Ramirez and Pena. It’s a make or break year for Soto, who may also be on the trade block in July.
7. Ian Stewart, 3B
Stewart hit 25 home runs in 2009 with Colorado and is fully healed from wrist injuries last season, which limited him to 122 at bats in 48 games. At 6’3″, 215 lbs and 26 years old, Cubs hope he can provide a cornerstone at 3B and some pop from the left side.
8. Darwin Barney, 2B
Barney hit .276 with 2 home runs, 45 RBI, and 9 stolen bases last year. He will fit in with the all in, hustle mode the Cubs and manager Dale Sveum will preach and come up with solid defensive plays in the field. His OBP of .310 must improve and drawing only 22 walks in 529 at bats won’t cut it.
9. Matt Garza, P
His tenacity and great stuff make Garza a solid #1 pitcher for this Cubs 2012 team. His 12-12 record last year was deceiving as he had an ERA of 3.32 but got little run support. With 197 strikeouts in 198 innings in 2011, Garza will be expected to win at least 15 games this season. A possible move at the trade deadline with the right offer is a distinct possibility unless this Cubs team surprises and remains in the NL Central race in July.
Overall Outlook and Prediction For 2012 Cubs
Look for the 2012 Cubs to come out of the gate strong, relying on pitching, defense, hustle, and a new attitude. Hovering around 1st place in May will excite the Wrigley faithful, but this team is not quite built for the long haul of a 162 game season.
Prediction: Expect 72-75 wins in the first year under Theo Epstein’s “building” of a new Cubs organization, with the arrow pointing up for 2013 and beyond.
What are your expectations of the 2012 Cubs?