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I’ve come to the realization that previews aren’t always accurate, especially ones written before Spring Training even starts. Since projections made this early can be thrown out the window because of a trade or an injury or the meteoric rise of a hot prospect, what’s the point of making one?
So I’ve decided to make my Chicago Cubs 2008 preview a two part series. An initial look at the team begins with this issue, by breaking the team down position-by-position and looking at the team as constructed right now. Then, before Opening Day, I would look and have a more accurate preview—of course having looking at what happened during Spring Training would be beneficial to making a more accurate projection.
So, without further to do, my 2008 Cubs preview, Spring Training Edition.
The Cubs strength is with their corner infielders. The anchor of the infield defense is first baseman Derrek Lee. His combination of range, athletic ability and baseball IQ are part of the reason he is a three-time Gold Glove winner. Offensively, 2007 was a down year for Lee posting only 22 home runs and 82 RBIs, despite posting a .317 batting average and .400 on-base percentage.
Even though Chicago sports journalists report the contrary, Aramis Ramirez is improving on the defensive end, in fact, Ramirez might be the best defensive third baseman in the Central Division or—dare I say—the entire National League. Offensively, Ramirez is a game changer even though he only hit 26 HRs and 101 RBIs. From 2004-06, Ramirez averaged over 30 HRs and 100 RBIs and was one of the Cubs best hitters.
As for the middle infield, the Cubs have a couple of question marks—and for different reasons. Ryan Theriot enters 2008 as the Cubs starting shortstop after posting a .266/.326/.346 line in his first full season. His hustle and versatility are two things he has going in his favor, but the jury is still out on if he can be a productive everyday shortstop.
For now, Mark DeRosa enters the 2008 season as the Cubs everyday second baseman, even though 47% of his starts came at positions other than second base. “DeRo” posted a .307 batting average and an .848 OPS as a second baseman and proved to be the Super-Utility man that Cubs fans thought they were getting when he signed in Chicago. He might return to that role full-time in 2008 if the Cubs acquire another second baseman.
The trio of Alfonso Soriano, Felix Pie and Japanese import Kosuke Fukudome provide manager Lou Piniella with the athletic outfield he has been craving. Soriano enters his second year with the Cubs and should be in a more focused mindset since he won’t have to acclimate himself to a new team or a new position. Fukudome is the left-handed hitting, high-OBP outfielder the Cubs desperately needed to add to their outfield. His career .397 OBP should translate well to the major leagues. As for Pie, Cubs fans would feel better about him if the line-up 1 through 7 was stronger. Unfortunately, it isn’t. Pie’s redeeming quality is his stellar defense.
The ultimate wild card in the everyday line-up is catcher Geovany Soto, who provided the Cubs with their only home run of the post season. Soto is a solid defensive catcher who could move up to the 6 th spot in the order if he hits like he did at Triple-A. Backing him up is defensive specialist Henry Blanco, who might be one foul tip away from calling it a career.
The Cubs starting rotation is solid, but not spectacular. Starters 1 through 3 will have to carry the load if the Cubs want to repeat as NL Central champs. Carlos Zambrano will have to get off to a better start and keep his emotions in check, Ted Lilly will have to continue to be the pitcher that went 9-1 after Cubs losses and Rich Hill will need to find a way to go deeper in games. Jason Marquis, Ryan Dempster, Jon Lieber, Sean Marshall, Sean Gallagher and Kevin Hart will fight for the final two spots of the rotation and whoever loses out might end up traded before Opening Day.
Power arms in the bullpen have me convinced that the ‘pen is the stronger half of the Cubs pitching staff. Right-handers Bobby Howry, Carlos Marmol and Kerry Wood will compete for the closers role, and whoever doesn’t make the cut will be used as shut down set-up men—so it seems like a no-lose situation for the Cubs. The addition of hard-throwers Jose Ascanio and Tim Lahey give the Cubs additional depth.
The Cubs bench may not seem deep, but what they don’t have in players, they have in versatility. DeRosa can play each of the infield positions and both corner outfield spots, Theriot can play the middle infield spots and right field, and Matt Murton and Daryle Ward are players that can play both corner outfield positions, too. The wild card on the bench is Sam Fuld. The fan favorite known for his hustle and grit was the Arizona Fall League MVP and could end up as the Cubs everyday center fielder.
Of all the intangibles, the one that will stand out the most is the ongoing storyline of the 100-year drought. That story will be told in many different ways, by different sports writers and columnists and probably in different languages. It will be up to each man and woman up and down that organization to keep the players focused. Remember, you can’t be held accountable for what happened (or what hasn’t happened) for the last 100 years.