I’ve been a Cubs fan my entire life. Growing up in Chicagoland meant that during the summer the AM radio dial was always on 720, and the TV was always on channel 9. I remember a lot of bad Cubs teams – which isn’t hard to do, considering the team’s storied championship drought – but never do I remember being a Cubs fan like this, looking at a potentially mediocre team and saying to myself, “it’s alright – the future is bright.”
I guess that is what a little Theology will do for you. No, I’m not talking religion, I’m talking the belief in Theo Epstein and the front office team he has assembled that will finally, ultimately free the Cubs from being known as the NL Central doormat and turn us into annual contenders. Not only for the division, and not only for the pennant, but for the whole damn thing, the trophy, the clubhouse champagne shower, the parade, the rings. That’s the kind of belief I have in Theo, and I think that’s the only kind a true Cubs optimist can have. We’ve toiled for lifetimes – and that’s no figure of speech – and something better must be on the way.
The 2013 Cubs who take the field on April 1st, for a road series against the Pirates, won’t be the same squad we see come August 1st, let alone 2014. The Cubs roster is very fluid, as the team tries to acquire and solidify cornerstones for future contending teams while putting a product on the field that is at least somewhat watchable with fiscal constraint and sound player investments. Could we, with the right amount of luck and hustle, be a contending team this year, possibly for the Wild Card play-in round? Perhaps, but let’s all agree to be patient. The competent leadership is in place, and we should give them the time it takes to build a winner the right way, as opposed to, say, the Yankee way (or what will soon be known as the Dodger way).
With an eye towards the future, let’s break down a selection of the 2013 Cubs Roster with what each player means to the Cubs as we move forward towards contention in 2015:
Jeff Samardzija, Starting Pitcher
Edwin Jackson, Starting Pitcher
Starlin Castro, Short Stop
Anthony Rizzo, First Base
Jeff Samardzija, if he continues to progress, could easily be a top of the rotation starter for several years. Edwin Jackson just signed a four-year deal and is a solid middle rotation guy that rarely misses a start. Starlin Castro, still only 23 years old, needs to raise his level of defensive awareness on the field but he projects to be a yearly All-Star caliber infielder. Anthony Rizzo, who showed flashes of greatness last year, can lock down first base for the Cubs for the next half decade with both his glove and his bat.
Darwin Barney, 2nd Base
Wellington Castillo, Catcher
Arodys Vizcaino, Starting Pitcher
Darwin Barney, a gold glove winner, saves enough wins with his glove to make up for a lack of consistent power a lot of teams want from their 2nd baseman. Wellington Castillo has been given the opportunity this year to prove he can be a part of the foundation of the next Cubs winner. Arodys Vizcaino is an interesting prospect who we’ll see this year once he comes off the DL. Scouts think he’s got top of the rotation potential.
Alfonso Soriano, Left Field
Carlos Marmol, Closer
Matt Garza, Starting Pitcher
Soriano, with 2 years left on his megabucks contract, hopefully plays well enough the Cubs can get one or two solid prospects from him from a team in need of a bat. Marmol’s trade value was highest a couple seasons ago, but if he can start to throw strikes again, the Cubs might be able to flip him for some value. I know a lot of fans want to see Matt Garza signed to an extension to be the Cubs ace, but his constant health issues are a big question mark. Might be best to let someone else take the risk of a long term deal on Garza while we get some young talent in return.
The Kids (aka Future Hopeful Cornerstones):
Javier Baez, Short Stop
Albert Almora, Outfield
Jorge Soler, Outfield
Brett Jackson, Outfield
These are the guys in the minors who we probably won’t see again until September, with the exception of Brett Jackson who is the closest to major league ready. Baez is currently the top prospect in the Cubs system, and though we have a short stop with Castro, his emergence could lead to some position shuffling at the major league level (or even move Castro from a cornerstone to trade bait!) Almora & Soler are both young but projected to be 5-tool players who can be the anchors of a Cubs outfield for years.
Everyone not mentioned!
Look, guys like Brent Lillibridge, Scott Hairston, Nate Schierholtz, and Steve Celevenger are fine for the 2013 Cubs. They have short, team friendly contracts, they’ll be serviceable to play in the field or come off the bench, and if they stick around for a couple years with good play then great, and if they don’t, oh well. The bullpen is always in motion, and outside of James Russell and new import Kyuji Fujikawa, lacks any talent that would be hard to replace. Starting pitchers like Travis Wood and Scott Baker could prove to be useful long-term or not, but again, the team hasn’t sunk big hopes or big money into them.
Unfortunately the biggest glaring need, on the current squad and for the future, is third base. Ian Stewart hasn’t proven that he can stay healthy, and then the question becomes about his level of talent. However, with the right amount of home grown talent and favorable contracts, signing a major free agent to play 3rd and another pitcher to lock down the rotation should be easily doable with the amount of funds Epstein & Co should be getting from the Ricketts family.
It’s a new way the Cubs are doing business, and one this long suffering Cubs fan can get behind. The 2013 team may not be one to contend, but we’re witnessing the process, and with a little belief, and dare I say faith, we may finally be rewarded for our undying love and endless optimism. Wait ’til next year – no, really, just wait.