Key Additions—Matt Garza, Carlos Pena
Key Losses—Derek Lee, Ryan Theriot
Lineup—While many will point to the addition of Carlos Pena as a big boost to their lineup, I just don’t see that big of an upgrade over Derek Lee. Remember, Pena hit below .200 last year, and although he had good power numbers, that is just an awful batting average. Unless he comes back strong, he isn’t the middle of the order bat that the Cubs need. A big key to this offense though will be Aramis Ramirez. When he is on, he is a very good stick, but he needs to start producing again. The outfield is well below average. Alfonso Soriano is aging, awful in left field, and his bat just isn’t what it used to be. And he has 4 yrs and 72 million left on that deal. Marlon Byrd and Koseke Fukudome are both subpar outfielders. The middle of the lineup is young but has a chance to be pretty good. I like Starling Castro, and Blake DeWitt provides a relatively good stick for 2b. They can only hope that Geovanny Soto returns to his rookie of the year form. All in year, compared with some of the other lineups in this division, they won’t be able to stack up enough to compete.
Rotation—I love the addition of Matt Garza. Sure, moving over from the American League will likely grow his ERA, but he is a guy you can count on to give you tons of innings and provide good starts the majority of his outings. What a great move acquiring him. He will fill one of the top of the rotation spots along with Ryan Dempster and Carlos Zambrano. Dempster has become a pretty solid starter, and Zambrano is very good when his head is on straight. Unfortunately for Cubs fans, that isn’t too often. He is also owed a ton of money, so Cubs fans need to hope he finds his stuff and attitude back. The back end of the rotation with Randy Wells and Carlos Silva is good enough to win some guys, and actually help this rotation be pretty steady. While I don’t think they are the best rotation in the division, I do like what they have done here.
Bullpen—For some reason, I think this bullpen has the potential to be pretty good. They have a good mix of lefty/righties in that pen, with John Grabow and Sean Marshall from the left side, and Jeff Samardzija, Kerry Wood, and Carlos Marmol from the right side. Marmol asserted himself as a very good closer last year, and as long as he can keep his walks down he will continue to get the job done. And although Kerry Wood often gets a bad rap, he will slide in nicely in that 8th inning roles. With those lefties I mentioned, they also have the ability to match up with other teams, which is a nice bonus to have. All in all I think this is a pretty solid pen.
Impact Rookie—Jay Jackson, RHP. A two way star at Furman, the fireballing Jackson has 4 pitches, the best of which is a mid 90’s fastball. Though he regressed slightly last year, he made 25 starts for AAA Iowa and could be an early call up should they need an arm whether it be in the bullpen or the rotation.
Outlook—I like what the Cubs did in the offseason, but I can’t help but think about how this team is handcuffed with a few salaries. Having over 36 millions committed to Zambrano and Soriano over the next few years is tough to overcome unless they really turn it around. As much as I like their pitching staff overall, I just don’t think their lineup can compete with the other teams in this division. Fact is, it will be another season of waiting for Cubs fans.
Brad Koesters, MLB Correspondent
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