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2014 Outlook: Chicago Cubs

Jan 10, 2014, 2:49 PM EST

Photo by USA Today Photo by USA Today

2013 record: 66-96, 5th place in NL Central
Manager: Rick Renteria, 1st season
Estimated 2014 payroll: $80 million
Key additions: RP Jose Veras, OF Justin Ruggiano, SP/RP Brett Marshall, C George Kottaras, IF Donnie Murphy
Key losses: OF Brian Bogusevic, 1B Matt Gamel, RP Daniel Bard

Projected lineup
SS Starlin Castro
3B Luis Valbuena
1B Anthony Rizzo
RF Nate Schierholtz
LF Junior Lake
CF Ryan Sweeney
C Wellington Castillo
2B Darwin Barney

Projected rotation
RHP Jeff Samardzija
RHP Edwin Jackson
LHP Travis Wood
RHP Jake Arrieta
LHP Chris Rusin

Top relievers
CL Jose Veras
RHP Pedro Strop
RHP James Russell

Biggest questions entering 2014
1. Will Samardzija emerge as an ace? Samardzija found himself among many trade rumors this offseason, with reports saying the Cubs expect a large haul of prospects if he is indeed dealt elsewhere. That shows the potential the Cubs believe he has, despite the 4.34 ERA and 1.348 WHIP he posted through 213 2/3 innings in 2013. Some of Samardzija’s numbers suggest he can be a top of the rotation guy, even an ace, but he hasn’t realized that potential yet. Is this the year? The Cubs desperately need their young players to emerge and Samardzija taking another step would go a long way in Chicago’s quest to climb out of the National League cellar.

2. When will Kris Bryant and Javier Baez get the call? The Cubs have two blue chippers in Baez and Bryant, both infielders who are on track to debut this season. Both have hit for power and average in the minors and both figure to help the Cubs’ lineup tremendously when they arrive. When exactly that happens is unclear. Baez is much further along despite being a year younger as Bryant hasn’t even reached Double-A. But with the success each has enjoyed in the minors – coupled with the struggling big league club – it wouldn’t be surprising to see at least one of them debut before the All-Star break.

3. Will Veras solve the Cubs’ closer problem? Chicago’s closer issues have been well-documented with the dependably inconsistent Carlos Marmol manning the ninth. He’s now gone and what’s left is a potentially shaky situation. The Cubs signed Jose Veras as a free agent and he clearly has the best chance at closing. He saved 21 games last year in time with the Tigers and Astros. The Cubs also don’t appear likely to re-sign Kevin Gregg, so that leaves Strop and Kyuji Fujikawa to help hold up the backend of their bullpen. Will they be enough? Only two NL bullpens were worse than the Cubs last year in relief pitcher ERA (4.04) so they have a long way to go.

  1. Faraz Shaikh - Jan 10, 2014 at 3:21 PM

    Bryant should start season with AA so he can break into big leagues about same time as Baez. Along with Castro(who needs to pick up his game some) and Rizzo, this could become a special IF. Not sure about their pitching prospects. Only Jeff can be in front of contending rotation.

  2. Section 222 - Jan 10, 2014 at 3:54 PM

    “Dependably inconsistent.” Well played, Chase.

    Reading this after our debate of potential Nats HoF’ers makes me appreciate that I’m a Nats fan, not a Cubs fan. Not a single major league player mentioned in this post will even sniff the Hall Baez sounds pretty special, but Tyler Moore hit a lot of homers in the minors too. So we’ll have to wait and see on Baez.

  3. Section 222 - Jan 10, 2014 at 4:09 PM

    Having looked at Harper’s stats this morning, I went back to examine a little more closely. Up till now, I was disappointed in his numbers after the incredible April he had. But I have to admit that overall, his season was every bit as good as his rookie year. In fact, it was better. All the numbers in his slashline were higher. His OPS+ was markedly improved (133 vs. 118 the year before). And, even though he had 100 fewer plate appearances in 2013 (17% less), he had 5 more walks, and only 2 fewer doubles and 2 fewer home runs. That’s pretty remarkable.





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