2013 Chicago Cubs Preview: Theo Laying Foundation


February 12, 2013; Mesa, AZ, USA; Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum (33) addresses the team during spring training camp at Finch Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

It’s an odd dichotomy. It’s not often a franchise that can spend with Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers is known as “lovable losers.” For as venomous as the Cubs can be when they land high-profiled acquisitions that cost a small island, more often that not, it’s a team that is destined to fall short – some seasons by 36 games, others by what the Northside would have you believe is a mere foul ball. There’s something comforting about the Cubs. Maybe it’s the familiarity. The uncompromising pinstripes, the restricted historic landmark that hosts home games. Wrigley field is a blast from the past. Even Alfonso Soriano still makes $19 million there.

2013 aims to be one of the more lovable years, at least to those beyond the north side. The Cubs will field its least expensive team in nearly a decade. That’s largely due to the efforts of Theo Epstein, baseball’s Steve Jobs. Theo received his doctorate in medicine when he cured the tortured Red Sox of the storied Bambino Curse. His curse expertise was sought when the Cubs finished twenty games under .500 in 2010. The Cub’s 71-91 record cost the team nearly $125 million in payroll. As of today, the Cubs are set to begin the 2013 campaign with a payroll of about $89 million.

Before Theo’s arrival in 2010, the Cubs had the third-largest payroll in baseball. Today, they rank 15th. Good and bad news for the rest of the division. The good news is, chances are, the 2013 Cubs team may struggle to top 70 wins. The bad news is, with all the hacking Theo and Co. have been doing, 2014 may arm Theo with his deadliest weapon –  a blank check, and an ink pen. They’ve discarded enough worthless, high-profiled salaries and have assembled a core group of young, talented position players who may allow them to spend serious coin on pitching.

But enough about the Cubs’ bright future. Let’s talk about a dimmer 2013.

Nothing is more telling of a team than its rotation. Nothing. I’ve written that a ton, but few things enforce a point better than rote rehearsal. I benefit from writing it as much as you do reading it. “Better” would be the adjective best used to describe the Cubs’ rotation. And somewhat familiar.

Jeff Samardzija will be the Cubs’ Opening Day starter, thanks to a strained left lat that could keep the Cubs’ “ace” Matt Garza out until May. Samardzija had a less than ideal 2012 campaign from a wins/losses perspective, but the Cubs’ Opening Day starter finished with an ERA of 3.81. Reds fans may remember a day in May last year when Samardzija shut the Reds down for just three hits and one earned run en route to a 3-1 Cubs victory.

The rest of the rotation is serviceable. And deep.

It’s not a rotation that leaves opponents hoping to take one of three. Just one pitcher in the rotation finished with a winning record, but Cubs fans have to appreciate a list of ERAs that stops at 4.32. This rotation is if nothing else deeper and Dale Sveum is going to have options when Garza returns. They apparently endlessly tried shopping Garza in the off-season, but perhaps we’ll chalk this up to being one of the better moves never made. Or maybe he’s elsewhere by ASB.

To complement a mediocre rotation, the Cubs have assembled a pretty decent lineup at the top.

What I like? David DeJesus heads the order with a welcoming .350 .OBP. Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo are two of the best young players in baseball. Both can send a ball to Sheffield Avenue with relative ease. Castro was the 7th best hitting shortstop in MLB last year and was one of the Cubs two All-Stars. The other is currently playing first for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. Anthony Rizzo played in just 87 games in 2012, but expect to hear about this kid a lot more. He has serious pop and hit .338 with RiSP. Rizzo had some pretty clutch moments. In 24 plate appearances with two outs and RiSP, he hit .286 and drove in seven RBIs. Expect to read his name in print more often in 2013.

Even the tired Alfonso Soriano produced 32 home runs and 108 RBIs. I think the RBI total rises considering the caliber of talent in front of him.

Nate Schierholtz, another decent acquisition, will provide more depth in the back of the lineup, which is far less impressive than the names sitting at the top. You’ll also notice an unfamiliar face sitting behind the plate this year and preceding the pitcher in the lineup – Wellington Castillo is the Cubs’ 25-year-old catcher and heir to throne left vacant by Geovany Soto. a career .248 hitter who once won Rookie of the Year over Joey Votto.

All things considered, this Cubs roster is probably going to produce a few empty seats at Wrigley near the end of the season. But the acquisition of low-risk free agents has allowed the Cubs to shed the obligated funds that once made the Chicago Cubs resemble Scrooge’s Marley.

In 2013, expect the Cubs to probably win around 70-75 games. In 2014, all bets are off.