For the Chicago Cubs, 2009 was a season that started with Great Expectations but soon fell into Hard Times (everyone loves a great Dickens joke, right?). Coming off a 97-64 2008 season that was good for the third-best record in the league, most everyone had the Cubs winning the division by a wide margin. Unfortunately, a slew of injuries and busts followed the Cubs to a disappointing 83-78 record in ‘09. The biggest move the team has made so far in the offseason is not player-related; it’s actually the finalization of the team’s sale to Incapital CEO Tom Ricketts. Upon completing the sale in late October, Ricketts made the mystifying statement that he expected a playoff appearance in 2010, without any major additions. This is a dubious assertion to say the least, but if the Cubs get bounce-back seasons from a few key players (a couple more moves wouldn’t hurt, either), contending for the division is not out of the question.
|C Geovany Soto||.218||.321||.381||27||11||47||1||331|
|1B Derrek Lee||.306||.393||.579||91||35||111||1||532|
|2B Mike Fontenot||.236||.301||.377||38||9||43||4||377|
|SS Ryan Theriot||.284||.343||.369||81||7||54||21||602|
|3B Aramis Ramirez||.317||.389||.516||46||15||65||2||306|
|LF Alfonso Soriano||.241||.303||.423||64||20||55||9||477|
|CF Marlon Byrd||.283||.329||.473||66||20||89||8||547||w/Tex|
|RF Kosuke Fukudome||.259||.375||.421||61||12||40||6||499|
Unsettled: Second base, right field, center field. Second base is straight up Fontenot vs. Baker, entirely dependent on spring training performance. Neither option is attractive except in the most desperate of times. Of more fantasy interest is the CF/RF conundrum. Byrd is a pretty average hitter coming off a career year, while Fukudome has been a disappointment ever since he arrived in Chicago, and the brittle Nady is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery (again). That said, all three could put up roster-worthy numbers, so it wouldn’t hurt to keep an eye on these guys if you’re in need of some emergency OF help. As it stands, it’s Byrd and Fukudome starting in CF and RF, respectively, but if Fukudome stinks it up he will get replaced by Nady. If Byrd stinks it up then Fukudome moves to center and Nady plays right.
Target: Geovany Soto. Of all the players here, he has the highest potential for return relative to the cost of drafting him. He’s being taken as the 10th catcher off the board on average, and he could easily put up the top-five numbers he did in his 2008 Rookie of-the Year campaign. His poor numbers last year were partially due to a mid-season oblique injury and the rest to bad luck. Between the minors and majors prior to 2009, he had a career BABIP of well over .330, and in 2009 it was .251. According to Derek Carty’s expected BABIP tool, Soto’s peripherals should have dictated a .314 mark in ‘09. Add that to a consistently improving batter’s eye (8.3% walk rate in 2007 up to 12.9% in 2009), you have a cheap young player at an extremely thin position primed for a major bounce-back year.
|Carlos Zambrano (R)||9-7||3.77||1.38||152||78||169.1|
|Ted Lilly (L)||12-9||3.10||1.05||151||36||177.0|
|Ryan Dempster (R)||11-9||3.64||1.30||172||65||200.0|
|Randy Wells (R)||12-10||3.05||1.27||104||46||165.1|
|Tom Gorzelanny (L)||7-3||5.55||1.32||47||17||47.0||w/2T|
Unsettled: 5th starter spot and Lilly’s replacement. For now, Gorzelanny’s occasional flashes of brilliance in 2009 have him as the front-runner for the last spot in the rotation. However, Sean Marshall has proven himself to be a fairly capable 5th starter in the past, so depending on how spring training works out, he could very well supplant Gorzelanny for the 5th starter spot. Then there’s Jeff Samardzija, who is also apparently in the competition. I don’t know what the Cubs brass sees in him. He’s been terrible at every level since he was drafted, so I wouldn’t expect much from him. And on the far-outer fringe of potential starters is Carlos Silva, and God help us all if he gets a serious look at a recurring rotation spot. Also, Lilly will be out recovering from shoulder surgery for the first few weeks of the season, so one more out of Gorzelanny, Marshall, and Samardzija will have a starting role until he returns.
Target: Carlos Silva. Ha, just kidding. Ryan Dempster would be the way to go. He’s on average the 46th pitcher taken, and while it’s unlikely that we’ll see a return of his scintillating 2008 season, he will more than likely outperform other pitchers taken near him (Porcello, Wolf, Happ, and the like). Since joining the Cubs in 2004, he has improved his walk rate every year, and in 2009 it dipped below 3 BB/9 for the first time. He’ll be one of those guys that doesn’t excel in any one statistic, but his solid overall contribution will be a big plus for your team. Expect something like 3.75 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 13 wins, 175 K in 200-ish IP. Another pitcher to keep an eye on is Lilly. Depending on how he progresses on his way back from injury, he may end up being the same undervalued Ted Lilly he’s been the last couple years, drafted as your 4th starter but performing better than your third.
The 8th and 9th Innings
|Carlos Marmol (R)||15||3.41||1.45||93||65||74.0|
|Angel Guzman (R)||1||2.95||1.05||47||23||61.0|
Chasing Saves: Marmol had a wild and wacky 2009, putting Cubs fans at the edge of their seats every time he took the mound. Sometimes he would put down the opposition 1-2-3, but other times he would walk the bases loaded with one or no outs. He has absolutely the downright filthiest, nastiest stuff out of pretty much any pitcher in the majors; no other guy could put up a 7.9 BB/9 and remain in the bigs, much less inherit a prominent role like Marmol has. If he dips back to his career walk rates of about 4 per nine then he could easily penetrate the top five in closer rankings. This year, the Cubs don’t have a Kevin Gregg to threaten him for the closer’s spot, so he remains safe unless he completely implodes. Guzman was consistent and reliable last year as a 7th/8th inning guy, and should continue to be so in 2010. If Marmol should fall, expect Guzman to be first in line to replace him.
With Alfonso Soriano’s unceremonious fall from grace, the Cubs lack a true superstar. Now their offensive core relies on an aging Derrek Lee, an injury-prone Aramis Ramirez, the new Soriano, and Geovany Soto coming off a terrible year. Pretty much everyone on the team, including the pitching staff, is a risk/reward fantasy option. Can the Cubs bounce back from their various struggles and injuries of ‘09? Can their banged-up team put together a full season? I guess the real question is, are you willing to take the gamble?
André Walker of Delta Upsilon is a hat-wearing, card-carrying, hyphen-overusing anarcho-Communist who happens to be a huge baseball fan. When he's not busy railing against capitalism or stalking Dexter Fowler, he makes brilliant, insightful posts under the name Neato Torpedo. Don't be intimidated.
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