Long the laughingstock of the NL Central, in 2014, the Cubs look poised to remain the laughingstock of the NL Central. Their pitching is suspect, their lineup has more holes than Dennis Rodman's face, and even their star players aren't the stars many thought they would be. However, with Theo Greyjoy and Jed Hodor in town, the future is bright. Wait, sorry, I have Game of Thrones on the brain. I meant Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Ahem. Apologies. Regardless, Theo and Jed have amassed an army of position prospects that are getting closer and closer to the majors. Let's take a closer look at this year, however.
I suppose we should start at the top. The Cubs fired Dale Sveum after 2 years, and, after flirting with Joe Girardi, settled on Padres bench coach and relative nobody Rick Renteria. Like Bryan Price, this'll be his first major league managerial job. Unlike Price, however, Renteria managed a few minor league teams, so in that sense he has a bit more experience. In any case, he'll have his work cut out for him.
The Scott Feldman Honorary Memorial Mediocre Pitcher on a One-Year Deal Award goes to Jason Hammel, who signed an aforementioned one-year, $6M deal. I'm pretty sure all parties involved assume if he has a halfway decent first half, he'll be flipped before the deadline. The Cubs also snagged former Astros closer Jose Veras on a 1-year, $4M deal with a $5.5M club option, and brought in Justin Ruggiano to play CF, who, when asked about how he'll handle the position, replied that he's "got this."
Other familiar faces on the squad are Ryan Sweeney, who'll start as the 4th OF/PH, James McDonald, who'll probably serve as AAA depth, and George Kottaras as the backup C. As for minor league signings, former Reds Chris Valaika and Darnell McDonald are in camp, along with Emilio Bonifacio, former ROY Chris Coghlan, Ryan Roberts, and Jonathan Sanchez. LOL.
He. He gone. Oh wait, wrong team. The Cubs said "suck it" to Dioner Navarro, and rightly so, as the Blue Jays tossed a Walt Jocketty special his way, signing him to a 2-year, $8M deal. Another former Red, Dave Sappelt went off seeking greener pastures, leaving just Travis Wood as the last remnant from the Sean Marshall deal. I think they still might've won the trade, though. The Cubs also lost surprisingly not-terrible closer Kevin Gregg, along with Scott Baker, Daniel Bard, and Brian Bogusevic from last year's squad. These names I've spent more than 400 words describing tell you just how rebuild-y this Chicago team is.
Your average, everyday run-of-the-mill Cubs fan will be eager to look for a scapegoat for what's sure to be a rough year, and new manager Rick Renteria could be just that. Although now that I think about it, the average, everyday, run-of-the-mill Cubs fan knows nothing about baseball and is only a Cubs fan because it's trendy or neat to go get sloshed at Wrigley with that Cubs hat his Aunt Mabel got him last year. But you know what I mean. It's easy to put the manager in the hot seat when the team is a hot pile of muffcabbage, but I doubt Theo/Jed will get rid of him unless the team underachieves even the low expectations people have for them.
Another thing to keep an eye on will be Jeff Samardzija. Will he take the next step? Will he be traded? My gut says yes, for cheaper, controllable high-minors pitching prospects, but what do I know?
The biggest storyline, however, is one that might not materialize until later in the year. You see, the Cubs have a glut of pretty amazingly terrifying position prospects, including Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Albert Almora, and Jorge Soler, among others. Their pitching pipeline isn't nearly as impressive, but judging by their pursuit of Masahiro Tanaka, it appears they're willing to invest to improve there. This team could be scary in a couple of years.
1B: Anthony Rizzo
2B: Darwin Barney
SS: Starlin Castro
3B: Luis Valbuena
LF: Junior Lake
CF: Justin Ruggiano
RF: Nate Schierholtz
C: Wellington Castillo
Chris Rusin/Jake Arrieta/Carlos Villanueva/James McDonald
Closer: Jose Veras
RH Set-up: Hector Rondon
LH Set-up: James Russell
By all accounts, the Cubs won't be very good in 2014. They're a bad team right now, waiting on their talent to mature and become major-league ready. The thing is, that might happen sooner than we think. The future of the rotation is certainly still very much a work-in-progress, though Epstein and Hoyer are constantly tinkering, making savvy moves to bolster the supporting staff that should fill in around what looks to be an offensive powerhouse in the making. But not yet. Let's all enjoy the LOLCubs while we still can.