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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Season Preview: Chicago Cubs

2008 Record: 97-64  .602

Run differential: +184 (1st)

2008 payroll: $118,345,833

Last season the Cubs had the best record in the NL and the best run differential in the majors on their way to breezing to the NL Central crown.  But their Cubbieness came out of hiding in October as the Dodgers sent them home by sweeping them in the first round of the playoffs.  As disappointing an ending like that is, the Cubs should be confident going into the 2009 season.

There were several changes made to the roster during the offseason.  Kerry Wood was let go in free agency so the younger and more talented Carlos Marmol close games, Jason Marquis was sent packing to Colorado, and Mark DeRosa was traded to Cleveland for some middling minor league pitchers.  These moves allowed the Cubs to sign right fielder Milton Bradley who immediately brings a new intensity to the team.  DeRosa’s positional flexibility will be missed but he had what is most likely to be his career season offensively last year.  Health issues have always been a problem for Bradley but hitting has not.  Aaron Heilman, Luis Vizcaino and Kevin Gregg were acquired in separate deals to provide a link from one of the National League’s best starting staffs to Marmol.

The new lineup really isn’t much different than last seasons.  Disappointing free agent Kosuke Fukudome will be moved to center where he will platoon with Reed Johnson.  While neither of these guys should be expected to excel defensively, this platoon should maximize their offensive strengths as they replace Jim Edmonds’s torrid half season in Wrigley.  The expected Mike Fontenot and Aaron Miles platoon at second base should allow the Cubs to get the most offense out of this position of any team in the division. 

If the Cubs can get 140 innings out of Rich Harden--and that is definitely a big if--this team should have no problem retaining their crown as division champs.  And as we see each year, once you make the playoffs anything can happen.

Likely opening day roster:

Pos. Name Salary How Acquired
C Geovany Soto $.401M Drafted 11th rd 2001
C Paul Bako $.725M Signed as FA 1/30/09
1b Derrek Lee $13 M Acquired in trade w/ Fla 11/03. Resigned 4/06
2b Mike Fontenot $.405M Drafted 21st rd 1999
3b Aramis Ramirez $15.65 M Acquired in trade w/ Pit 7/03. Resigned 11/06
SS Ryan Theriot $.5 M Drafted 3rd rd 2001
LF Alfonso Soriano $13 M Signed as FA 11/06
CF Reed Johnson $3 M Signed as FA 3/25/08
RF Milton Bradley $5 M Signed as FA 1/6/09
Inf Aaron Miles $2.2 M Signed as FA 12/31/08
Of Kosuke Fukudome $11.5 M Signed as FA from Japan 12/07
Of Joey Gathright $.8 M Signed as FA 12/16/08
UT Micah Hoffpauir $.39 M Drafted 13th rd 2002
SP Carlos Zambrano $17.75 M Signed as FA 1/15/09
SP Ryan Dempster $8 M Signed as FA 1/21/04. Resigned 11/08
SP Ted Lilly $12 M Signed as FA 12/06
SP Rich Harden $7 M Acquired in trade w/ Oak 7/8/08
SP Sean Marshall $.327M Drafted 6th rd 2003
Cl Carlos Marmol $.575M Signed as amateur FA from D.R. 1999
SU Kevin Gregg $4.2 M Acquired in trade w/ Fla 11/13/08
RP Luis Vizcaino $3.5 M Acquired in trade w/ Col 1/6/09
RP Chad Gaudin $2 M Acquired in trade w/ Oak 7/8/08
RP Aaron Heilman $1.63 M Acquired in trade w/ Sea 1/20/09
RP Neal Cotts $1.1 M Acquired in trade w/ ChA 11/06.
RP Angel Guzman $.401M Signed as amateur FA from Venezuela 1999

Payroll obligations to former players: Jason Marquis

Say hello to: Kevin Gregg, Joey Gathright, Aaron Miles, Luis Vizcaino, Milton Bradley, Paul Bako, Aaron Heilman

Wave goodbye: Kerry Wood, Bobby Howry, Mark DeRosa, Jason Marquis, Jim Edmonds

Rookies: Jeff Samardzija

Non-Roster Invitees to Watch: Corey Koskie, So Taguchi, Mike Stanton, Chad Fox

Potential breakout: Micah Hoffpauir

Welcome to Earth: I don’t see Milton Bradley playing 140 games again

Likely to rebound: Kosuke? I’m not sure anyone will really have a better season but if I had to pick someone I’d pick Fukudome.

Strengths: The Cubs have one of the league’s top offenses and rotations to go with an intelligent manager.

Weaknesses: Several guys with injury issues and very few left handed hitters.

Optimal batting lineup (position, name, bats, Avg/OBP/Slg, HR, SB, EqA):

SS Theriot R  .307/.387/.359  1, 22  .267

LF Soriano R  .280/.344/.532  29, 19  .291

RF Bradley B .321/.436/.563  22, 5  .337

3B Ramirez R  .289/.380/.518  27, 2 .300

C  Soto R  .285/.364/.504  23, 0  .291

1B Lee R .291/.361/.462  20, 8  .282

2B Fontenot L/Miles B  .305/270

CF Johnson R/Fukudome L  .270/.263

Prediction: 1st place. NL Champs 

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