30 Days for 30 Teams: Chicago Cubs

BY RYAN MILOWICKI

2013 Record: 66-96 (5th Place NL Central, 31 GB)

We took care of the White Sox yesterday, so let’s head north a few miles to look at the crosstown Cubs. It goes without saying, but season 105 of the World Series drought was less than successful, with the Cubbies failing to break the 70 win mark for the second consecutive season.

The Cubs’ perennial offensive woes continued in 2013, with only Anthony Rizzo and Nate Schierholtz clearing 20 home runs and 60 RBI. That being said, somehow the club managed to slug the second-most home runs in the National League (172), which is even more improbable given that they also ranked second-last in team RBI and third-last in team batting average. Translation: The youthful Cubs roster lacks plate discipline, so that will have to be one of first-year manager Rick Renteria’s top priorities.

Things haven’t changed too much on the mound, with Samardzija, Wood (Travis that is), and Jackson still representing the 1-2-3 punch. They’ll look to improve on their team ERA of an even 4.00, the third-highest total in the National League last year.

Key Acquisitions

SP Jason Hammel  (1yr/$6 mil)

RP Jose Veras  (1yr/$4 mil)

 OF Justin Ruggiano (acquired in trade for OF Brian Bogusevic)

UTIL Emilio Bonifacio (minor league deal)

Hammel came as a free agent from the Orioles, where he rejoins former teammate Jake Arrietta. He hasn’t won ten games in a season since 2010 with the Rockies, but he’s got a fighting chance to slip into the bottom of the Cubs rotation.

Veras has bounced around a few NL Central teams in the past few years (i.e. the Pirates, Brewers, and the NL-fleeing Astros) before landing in Chicago this offseason. He was instantly promoted to the closer role, and hopes are high that he can end the perpetual 9th inning uncertainty that surrounded Carlos Marmol.

Ruggiano was part of a rare clean switch between the Cubs and Marlins, in a deal that sent Brian Bogusevic to Miami. With Junior Lake pretty well established in left field, look for Ruggiano to be the starting center fielder this year.

As for Bonifacio, his future is still unknown. Although he was signed to a meager minor-league contract, his spring training performance has thus far exceeded expectations. There’s talk that he could be the starting third baseman come Opening Day, and even potentially the leadoff hitter.

Key Losses

 Brian Bogusevic: After the Alfonso Soriano trade last year, Bogusevic filled in as the left fielder for the remainder of the season. He actually performed respectably hitting .276/.323/.462 with 6 home runs in just 140 plate appearances.

Renovation Plans: The plan was for a new video scoreboard, a see-through ad, and other elements of a $500 million restoration to begin this offseason, but opposition from the various rooftop owners stalled the project for the time being. The new hope is that renovation will start up after the 2014 season.

PLAYER TO WATCH

Clark the Cub. No seriously! What’s the one thing the Cubs haven’t had in these past 105 seasons? (Hint: the answer’s not a new stadium, since Wrigley has only been used by the Cubs since 1916). The answer is an official mascot! That all changed when our man Clark was introduced to the world in January. Now the Dodgers, Yankees, and Angels are the only teams without mascots, but those clubs have no trouble buying a playoff team. Look for an increased feeling of camaraderie and esprit de corps at Wrigley in 2014. The Curse of the Billy Goat has haunted the Cubs for over 80 years now, so maybe a friendly bear is just what the doctor ordered.

Projected Opening Day Lineup

cubs opening day

The rest of the rotation will likely include Travis Wood, Edwin Jackson, Jake Arrieta and either Jason Hammel or Chris Rusin. Although I tentatively placed Bonifacio in the third base spot for now, Luis Valbuena or Donnie Murphy could easily beat him out for the opening day spot.

It’s looking like another “rebuilding” year for the Cubs. Three of their foes in the NL Central cleared 90 wins last season, and the Cubs simply lack the bats and rotation depth to contend.

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