In the wide world of sports, there are no sure things. This is why most people love sports. Optimism reigns supreme before each athletic season and you can never be truly assured of the outcome of that season until the games are actually played. Any team can theoretically come out a champion. Unless, of course, the Chicago Cubs are involved. In that case, you can be absolutely assured that they will lose and do so in hilarious fashion. And that, my friends, is why I love sports.
How the Cubs failed miserably in 2009:
Last season was a disappointing one for the Cubs and their fans (Note to next year's Cubs preview writer: You have my permission to copy and paste that sentence). In case you forgot, they spent about $135 million to go 83-78 and come nowhere near the playoffs -- they only played 161 games, but I think we can all agree that they would have lost the 162nd had MLB not decided to mercifully cut their season short. If we're lucky, that's just the first step to contracting them.
The 2009 Cubs scored 707 runs and gave up 672 in their third year under manager Lou Piniella, paying twice as much for offensive ineptitude very similar to the Reds. 1B Derrek Lee (145 OPS+) was their only reliable hitter, as Aramis Ramirez (130 OPS+) missed half the season with a deep mangina bruise and Alfonso Soriano (due $18 million annually through 2014) fell off a cliff, putting up a robust .241/.303/.423 line while playing his usual asstastic defense in LF. Big free agent signing Milton Bradley had a .378 OBP, but was only able to put up an OPS+ of 99. On the bright side, he gave Cubs fans someone to truly unreasonably rally against and bitch about, something they hadn't really been able to do since Steve Bartman. CF Kosuke Fukudome was average offensively and below average defensively, making him well worth the $12 million the Cubs have paid him the last two years and will pay him for the next two. C Geovany Soto (79 OPS+), SS Ryan Theriot (83 OPS+), and 2B Mike Fontenot (72 OPS+) rounded out the starting lineup for most of the year.
On the pitching side of things, the Cubs actually fielded a respectable starting five, with Ryan Dempster (3.64 ERA), Carlos Zambrano (3.77 ERA), Ted Lilly (3.10 ERA), Rich Harden (4.09 ERA), and Randy Wells (3.05 ERA) all starting at least 26 games and managing a .500 record or better. The bullpen was a different story. Kevin Gregg was their closer for most of the year, managing a stellar ERA+ of 95. Set-up man and part-time closer Carlos Marmol showed off his electrifying stuff and terrifying control, striking out 93, walking 65, and hitting 12 in 74 innings. That's a WHBPIP of more than 1, which my lack of research tells me is nearly unheard of for people not named Derrick Turnbow or Jason Neighborgall. The rest of the bullpen was rounded out by Angel Guzman, Sean Marshall, Aaron Heilman, and some other slapdicks that aren't really worth mentioning.
Following the Cubs' lack of a humiliating first round playoff sweep to a supposedly inferior team, they were sold to Tom Ricketts and his family, the owners of TD Ameritrade, who have shown their experience in fucking people over and wasted no time giving Cubs fans what they deserve.
With new ownership came high hopes for the offseason, and boy did GM Jim Hendry deliver. He wasted no time in signing and trading for an assortment of crappy and overpaid players assuring that the new additions will fit in perfectly with the rest of the team. A quick overview of the new Cubs you'll see this season:
LHRP John Grabow: Acquired at the deadline last year from the Pirates, Hendry promptly gave him roughly $7.5 million more than he was worth on a 2 year, $7.5 million deal.
CF Marlon Byrd: Byrd was given a 3 year, $15 million deal to man CF for the Cubs after three solid years in Texas. Of course, his OPS was 201, 139, and 133 points higher at the friendly confines in Arlington over those three years, but I'm sure giving an aging Texas outfielder coming off of a career year with ridiculous home/road splits a three year deal for too much money couldn't possibly backfire two years in a row, right? Ok, well, at least Marlon Byrd isn't black, right? Yeah, this will end well.
LF/RF/1B Xavier Nady: Hendry's final major league free agent signing of the offseason proved that he knows how to pick a winning player, this time giving former Pirate and Met Xavier Nady $3.3 million to sit on the bench until June.
SP Carlos Silva: In order to get rid of the two years remaining on Milton Bradley's contract, Hendry dealt him for the opportunity to pay Carlos Silva $16 million over the next two seasons. Carlos Silva was 5-18 with a 6.81 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 12.4 H/9, 1.2 HR/9, and 3.9 K/9 over his two seasons in Seattle. And he's the favorite for the #5 spot in the rotation.
Other acquisitions: RHRP Jeff Gray (acquired from A's for Aaron Miles and Jake Fox), 1B Kevin Millar (minor league contract), 1B/3B/LF/RF Chad Tracy (minor league contract), RHRP Mike Parisi (Rule V draft)
Of course, the acquisition of new players means the team had to get rid of some old ones, so here's a list of the players who were smart enough to get the hell out of Chicago this offseason: RHSP Rich Harden, OF/Professional Troublemaker Milton Bradley, RHRP Kevin Gregg, RHRP Aaron Heilman, OF Reed Johnson, LHRP Neal Cotts
As you can see, the Cubs made great progress this offseason, assuming their goal was to flush money down the drain and make the team worse (as it usually is). Going into 2010, expectations are unfortunately not as high for the Cubs, meaning we won't really get an opportunity to see them choke late in the year as they're unlikely to be in contention. Let's take a look at the Cubs expected team this year.
Projected 2010 Starting Lineup
SS Ryan Theriot - Theriot is entering his 4th season as the Cubs starting SS. He brings virtually no power or other offensive value to the table and has an annoying way to pronounce his last name. Despite above average speed, he's not a very good base stealer. Above average defense at SS is his calling card, I suppose. Annoyingly qualifies as a Bill Hall All Star, with a career .321/.374/.423 line against the Reds.
RF Kosuke Fukudome - The Fuck You Dome has two years left on the lease and should continue to not hit lefties or anything at all in the second half. He's expected to sit in favor of Sam Fuld, Micah Hoffpauir, or the aforementioned Xavier Nady vs. lefties this year, although none of them strike fear into the heart of opponents either. On the bright side (for Cubs fans), his defense should improve now that he's moved out of CF and into RF. On the bright side (for Reds fans), he's a career .167 hitter against our mighty Redlegs.
1B Derrek Lee - Regained his power stroke last year after three years of diminished production in that regard, also heading into a contract year this season. He's unlikely to repeat his .306/.393/.579 campaign from last year, though part of me hopes that he does so the Cubs can give him the giant stupid extension we know they want to. Has more homers (32) against the Reds than any other team, which is kind of a dick move.
3B Aramis Ramirez - Monster hitter at 3B who tends to struggle a bit with health and defense. He has a player option for 2011 worth $14.6 million, so a big year would likely mean he'll get a large chunk of change on the free agent market. Is a career .336/.391/.579 hitter against the Reds, which is also kind of a dick move. He and D-Lee better get out by 2011, because they won't keep having that success when they're facing Aroldis Chapman instead of Eric Milton.
CF Marlon Byrd - I already talked about this jerkoff above. Interesting note: Has never faced the Reds before, despite spending the first 4 years of his career in the NL with the Phillies and Nationals.
LF Alfonso Soriano - Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Don't you wish your boss was dumb enough to give you $90 million over the next 5 years to suck at everything you try to do?
C Geovany Soto - He learned his lesson last year, hitting like total crap after stealing Joey Votto's Rookie of the Year award the year before. The Cubs blamed it on the fact that he spent all winter smoking pot, getting the munchies, and putting on 40 pounds, but I think it's more likely that he was being punished by Captain Canuck for his crimes against Canadianity. He reportedly came to spring training in much better shape this year, meaning he's probably moved onto heavier drugs.
2B Mike Fontenot - Inexplicably being awarded the 2B job by Lou Piniella over vastly superior hitter and adequate enough fielder Jeff Baker, he also pronounces his last name annoyingly. He's Fonte-not a good hitter at all, although his 2B defense is respectable. The Cubs are also hoping he can be their back-up SS this season, despite his 4 career appearances there. Just a .213 career hitter against the Reds, as a bonus.
Projected Bench Players: OF Sam Fuld, 1B/OF Micah Hoffpauir, 2B/3B Jeff Baker, 1B/OF Xavier Nady, C Koyie Hill
RHSP Carlos Zambrano - Not ruining this fatass's arm is just another thing that Dusty didn't do right in Chicago, but Big Whiny Z has still failed to top 200 innings each of the past two years. While he's hardly the ace that Cubs fans make him out to be, he's generally owned the Reds throughout his career, with a 2.95 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 33 appearances.
LHSP Ted Lilly - Put up a stellar season last year with a 3.10 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. He's in the final year of his contract like several others, although luckily all the really overpaid and really crappy players seem to still be signed for a couple more years (or 5, like Alfonso Soriano. Hahahahaha!) There are some injury concerns about Lilly going into this season. I predict he'll be cruising to the DL and see Cubs fans as he pass, and when he goes twice they're gonna kick his Lilly ass.
RHSP Ryan Dempster - We all know about Ryan Dempster. Screw Ryan Dempster.
RHSP Randy Wells - Put up a 147 ERA+ in 165 innings last year as a 26-year-old rookie. His minor league numbers and peripherals indicate this was a bit of a fluke, but his overall effectiveness should still fall somewhere between David Wells and Kip Wells. Speaking of people named Wells, is anybody else shocked that the Cubs didn't trade for Vernon Wells to shore up their CF hole this offseason? That contract looks like it was written by Jim Hendry himself.
RHSP Carlos Silva - The 5th starter spot is still technically up for grabs, but I'd like to think the Cubs will live up to their Cubbiness and hand the spot to Silva. Quick question: Carlos Silva vs. a lineup of CF Taveras, SS Gonzalez, 1B Hernandez, 3B Rosales, 2B Hairston, LF Patterson, RF McDonald, and C Tatum...does the world explode?
Key Relievers: LHRP John Grabow, RHRP Jeff Samardzija, LHRP Sean Marshall, RHRP Carlos Marmol
The Cubs lost set-up man Angel Guzman for the year with an arm injury, dealing a big blow to an already weak bullpen. Marshall and Grabow are solid if unspectacular lefties out of the pen, while Samardzija was absolutely awful last season but has some upside. Marmol is scary wild and I wouldn't count on him to close out games. If the offense is actually able to score enough runs for the Cubs to have some leads, I wouldn't expect this bullpen to hold onto them.
Prospects to watch:
RHP Andrew Cashner - The Cubs first round pick out of TCU a couple years ago, Cashner is likely to see some time in the Cubs bullpen at some point this season. He could be a potential closer one day, although the Cubs would like to give him a shot as a starter.
SS Starlin Castro - Listed at 19 years old, Castro has impressed in Cubs camp just as he did in AA last year. Projects to be a good contact hitter with a little pop, while opinions on his defense vary from potential plus defender to a guy who will have to move off of the position. If the Cubs are smart he'll get a full year in the minors this year, but nobody has ever accused the Cubs of being smart.
Overall 2010 Outlook: The Cubs need pretty much their entire offense to rebound from last year, plus have Lee, Byrd, and the pitching staff not regress, plus have some no-names step up and have big years in the bullpen. All while being the Cubs. If you're waiting for the opportunity to see the Cubs exit the playoffs in embarrassing fashion, I wouldn't hold your breath. Unless you're a Cubs fan, in which case I suggest you hold your breath for as long as you possibly can. At the bottom of Lake Michigan. The Cubs have all the pinnings of a 4th place team on the decline, and I boldly predict that they will not win the World Series this season or any time in the near (or distant) future.