This current roster couldn't even bring a smile to an easily excitable child. If you look at the lineup we'll see most frequently it's a little depressing. Darwin Barney. Bryan LaHair. Ian Stewart. Marlon Byrd. David DeJesus. Some of them have some value, but who is going to watch a game to see those guys in action? I'm a half glass full kinda guy so I actually think there's some reason to be excited.
Take the lineup and add Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo to it. You've got Jackson leading off (maybe not right away), Starlin Castro batting 2nd and you can slot Rizzo in the 4th or 5th spot. The top half of the Cubs order is potentially very good, quite young and definitely something worth being excited about.
The rotation is even less exciting than the lineup. Other than Matt Garza there's no pitcher you feel you have to tune into. Ryan Dempster is still good, but he's not that good. Paul Maholm? There's just something about an 87 mph fastball that makes you want to do something else. Unless that pitcher has incredible secondary stuff, it's just boring watching a guy throw the ball 87 mph. Chris Volstad was once a top 50 prospect. Prior to the 2007 season he was considered one of the better starters in the minor leagues. He dropped some the following year, but was still 58th. After a good rookie season (2.3 rWAR), he's been worth 1 rWAR over the last 3 seasons. The projections have him striking out about 6 per 9 innings so that's certainly not very exciting.
Speaking of strikeouts, does anybody miss Larry Rothschild? He's one of the better pitching coaches in the game. You can look at how pitchers improved while working with him and it's quite clear that Larry understood the value of adding strikeouts and even reducing walks. This led to high pitch counts, which angered fans, but the more strikeouts you have the better a pitcher you are. The fewer walks, the better you are. Pitchers improved under Rothschild. They also struck a shitload of batters out. I can't remember the manager or even the team the Cubs were playing back in 2001, but he commented after an extra inning game about how brutal it was facing all the Cubs relievers. You take one guy who throws 95 out and most of the time you're feeling better. Then you see he's replaced by a guy throwing 97 he said.
Enough has been said about Jeff Samardzija to last a lifetime. Seriously, I think more has been written about him here in recent weeks than will probably be written about him over the rest of his career. That kind of says it all.
That's all the starters? Garza, Dempster, Maholm, Volstad and Samardzija? Definitely worse than the bad lineup we're going to see regularly.
Defense? It might be improved, but it's still bad. Bad defense is no fun to watch.
Baserunning? It's hard to say, but you'd think the team would be better at it (baserunning, not overall!) simply by letting Aramis Ramirez walk. Oddly enough, they seem eager to prove that wrong. Dale Sveum talks about aggressive baserunning like it's the goal to winning games. Here's a goal: don't make outs on the bases. I don't care if the Cubs are aggressive or not. I want the Cubs to make good baserunning decisions. If that can be done while being aggressive, great. If it can't, don't be aggressive.
Should the Cubs even be aggressive on the bases? LaHair, Stewart, Byrd, DeJesus, Soriano, and Soto are guys who should probably not be so aggressive. That's almost the entire lineup. I'm going to go with no, the Cubs should not be aggressive.
Mike Quade realized last spring the Cubs didn't have the players to be aggressive on the bases. He sounded like an idiot early in spring training when he talked about it, but quickly realized this team sucked at running the bases. What's taken Dale Sveum so long? Who knows?
I now have the 2001 Cubs on my mind. That was a fun team. They got off to a 21-13 start. I'm pretty sure they were in first place. In typical Cubs fashion they lost 8 in a row to fall back to mediocrity. Following the losing streak the Cubs won 12 in a row. Probably the best baseball I've seen from this team over a 2 week span in my life. That lineup was kind of like this team with one exception: there is no Sammy Sosa in this lineup. Other than that, the 2001 lineup was just a bunch of mediocre to bad players. Ricky Gutierrez was 2nd on that team in RBI. He had 94 fewer than Sosa. That's not happening this year.
What about Starlin Castro? Will he improve a little bit like he did a year ago? That's all one can hope for in my opinion. Is he going to get arrested for rape? Is it just me or are others thinking that the police must have some credible evidence? I don't know what goes into a rape investigation, but they're usually he said/she said situations. Sometimes there's some physical evidence, but I wouldn't think you'd have to talk to all that many parties about it. Maybe I'm just thinking too much about it.
When was the last middle infield combination the Cubs had that was any good? I immediatley think about Ryne Sandberg and Shawon Dunston, but I've realized as I've gotten older and understand advanced metrics that Dunston wasn't very good. Through age 25 Dunston had OPS's of 87, 83, 62, and 76. That's very similar to another Cubs shortstop who posted the following OPS's in his first 4 full seasons: 71, 92, 83, 71. That SS had an OPS+ of 80 to Dunston's 77.
Ryan Theriot is the shortstop mentioned above. Granted, Dunston did that through age 25 while Theriot was 30 by that time. Theriot had 5.6 career rWAR and Dunston had 10. Dunston had twice as many plate appearances.
So while Sandberg was awesome, Dunston wasn't very good. Ernie Banks was a great SS early in his career, but the Cubs had Gene Baker and a couple other guys at 2nd who weren't very good. It's going to be awhile before the Cubs have a really good middle infield combo.
I'm looking forward to watching Steve Clevenger get some playing time. He's put together some fairly strong offensive seasons for a catcher and has done so under the radar. The Cubs made the right choice here. They told Welington Castillo he was sent down because he's a starter, but they can't be serious, right? Clevenger is only a year older and has been better in the minor leagues. Both of them are back-up catchers.
How many 2nd basemen does a team need on opening day? 4.
The Cubs have almost as many 2nd basemen on their roster as they do relievers. If they wanted, they could set up a rotation for 2nd base. You have your ace, number 2, number 3 and number 4. One more and they can match them up with the starting pitcher. I like that idea. When Matt Garza is on the mound, Blake DeWitt plays 2nd. Jeff Baker plays during Dempster's starts. Luis Valbuena is teamed up with Paul Maholm. Darwin Barney and Jeff Samardzija are both transformed players so they would naturally be paired together. Joe Mather could probably play some 2B when Volstad pitches.
You could even get fancier than matching them up. When Garza comes out, you bring in your relief 2nd baseman. The Cubs would need a couple more 2nd basemen, but if they wanted they could match those together too. You could have a setup 2nd baseman and a closer if you wanted. I was wrong about this team not being exciting.
Every year someone asks me who is going to win the World Series. Like I fucking have a crystal ball. Want to know who is going to win? The best team has the best odds and more times than not the best team is the Yankees. That's been my go to answer for at least 15 years.
Too much bad news? I'll leave you with some good news: the probability that the Cubs get off to as bad a start this year as they did in 1997 is this: 0.00006103515625. That's if the Cubs were a true .500 team. Let's say they're a true .439 team (based on projections). The odds they start 0-14 are now 0.000009874231009178909. Basically 0%. Rest assured knowing it's an almost certainty that the Cubs will start the season better than 0-14.