New Cubs manager Dale Sveum. (Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE)

2012 NL Central Sneak Peek: Chicago Cubs

Call the Cubs what you want, but with the numerous moves the Chicago Cubs made during the off-season, one thing is for certain: the Cubs will strive for a better team from 2012 going forward. The most prominent of moves was bringing in Theo Epstein to run the club. The other move was bringing in Jed Hoyer, who had worked with Epstein in Boston, to be the new General Manager.

There was a shake-up on the roster as well. Gone are veterans such as Aramis Ramirez and the ever explosive Carlos Zambrano. That’s not to say the Cubs don’t have a vet or two still on the roster. There is Geovany Soto and Marlon Byrd that can surely help the Cubs back to winning ways.

But what will the Cubs be like in 2012? I posed a trio of questions to Cubbies Crib Editor Jordan Campbell to assist us in defining what the 2012 Cubs will bring to the ballpark.

BRM: With all the movement within the front office and on the roster, what expectations do Cubs fans have for the 2012 season?

JC: Smart Cubs’ fans are expecting to see a team that is fundamentally sound and plays the game of baseball the right way. I know, that is not saying much. But when you look at how fundamentally unsound the Cubs were under Mike Quade and Lou Piniella, fans are finally ready to see an actual baseball team. Don’t be confused, 2012 signals the year the Cubs go from a slow team of veterans to a young team filled with athleticism.

A youth movement isn’t always a bad thing especially if that youth can perform at a level that’s above expectations.

BRM: Even if a new deal is reached, will the Matt Garza rumors ever cease?

JC: The rumors will never cease. Matt Garza may be the best starting pitcher on the trade market right now. Even if the Cubs sign Garza to a long-term deal during Spring Training, there will still be rumors that insist the Cubs’ front office is looking to trade the starting pitcher. I’ve said all along that Garza’s best value to the Cubs is as a trade chip. Under such a label, the Cubs would be able to land three to four top prospects to improve their farm system.

Garza is on a one-year deal that will pay him $9.5 million. He also holds one more year of arbitration. Needless to say, a Garza trade could net the Cubs a couple of players that may be able to help them now…and maybe another than can help them a little later. A staff with the Garza as a lynchpin can be a good one, but will that be in Chicago? Not likely…

BRM: Prior to last season, some felt that Carlos Marmol was ready to take the next step as a top tier closer. What happened?

JC: Carlos Marmol fell in love with his cut fastball. Rather then using his slider–the pitch that no hitter can touch–Marmol opted to use his cut fastball more and more in 2011. No matter how intimidating Marmol may be on the mound, a fastball is still fastball. Marmol left his fastball over the plate too many times in 2011 and he paid the consequences. I would expect in 2012 that Marmol reverts back to his slider and becomes dominant once again.

Interesting to note that Marmol faced 5 less batters in 2011 (327) than in 2010 (332). Even more compelling is that his strikeouts decreased from 138 in 2010 to 99 in 2011. His BAA jumped from .147 for 2010 to .200 for 2011.

And Jordan’s picks for key position player and key pitcher…

Key Position Player: Bryan LaHair. LaHair is finally being given an opportunity to prove that he can have sustained success on the Major League level. LaHair has shown tremendous power on the Minor League level, and the expectation is for him to be the cleanup hitter for the Cubs. He will have tough shoes to fill in the form of Aramis Ramirez, but Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are firm on giving LaHair an opportunity to succeed. Though, top first base prospect Anthony Rizzo will likely unseat LaHair at first base at some point this season.

Key Pitcher: Jeff Samardzija. This is a tough one, it really is. The three pitchers that came to my wind were Travis Wood, Chris Volstad, or Jeff Samardzija. I went with Samardzija because I feel that something has clicked for him. In previous seasons, Samardzija would talk a big game but fail to put in the effort to back up his talk. This season is different. Samardzija has been conditioning in Arizona since last November with the mind-set of being a starting pitcher. While his spot in the rotation is far from a lock, I get the sneaking suspicion that he will win one of the final two spots in the Cubs’ rotation.

Jordan’s take on what the final standings will be for the NL Central…

1. Reds
2. Brewers
3. Cardinals
4. Cubs
5. Pirates
6. Astros

Seems Houston can get no love…

For your fantasy purposes, here’s Ryan Lester of Lester’s Legends for a fantasy tip or two about the Cubs…

Top Position Player: Starlin Castro is the choice here. Not only is he a highly productive player, but he does his damage in a fairly shallow position. He should hit .300 again, and if he can add to his power numbers, he’ll be a fantasy force.

Top Pitcher: Matt Garza only won ten games with a .500 winning percentage, but he managed a 3.32 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP with 197 Ks.

Fantasy Sleeper: Ian Stewart is replacing Aramis Ramirez at third base. He was dreadful last year, but he’ll get a chance to play every day. Perhaps the change of scenery will serve him well.

Tomorrow will bring a sneak peek at the Houston Astros. It will be the last season for the Astros as a member of the NL Central as they will “move” to the AL West in 2013.

And, once again, don’t forget the contest that BRM and TiqIQ are having for a chance to win Opening Day tickets! Details are here.

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Tags: 2012 National League Central Baseball Bryan LaHair Carlos Marmol Chicago Cubs Jeff Samardzija Matt Garza MLB National League Central National League Central Preview

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