The Chicago Cubs are playing the waiting game this season and building their farm system while marginally improving their big league team. The Cubs are not going to contest for the playoffs especially since they play in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. Chicago will finish at the bottom of the NL Central but they might improve on last season's record. Matt Guerrier, Kevin Gregg, Dioner Navarro, and Brian Bogusevic are all gone but Chicago didn't suffer any major losses. The Cubs made a poor signing last season when they agreed to terms with Edwin Jackson who doesn't appear to be any sort of savior in Chicago. They'll sport a new manager in former Padres bench coach Rick Renteria. They have too many glaring weaknesses to contend for anything other than the worst record in the MLB during the 2014 campaign.
At first base will be Anthony Rizzo who has some nice upside for the Cubs. He is coming off a season where he batted .233 and drove 23 home runs for a 1.6 wins above replacement. Chicago will need more offense from Rizzo in 2014 and hopefully last season was just the tip of the iceberg for him. Shortstop Starlin Castro took a major step back in 2013 with a .245 batting averrage and just 44 RBIs. The Cubs have some depth in the minors at shortstop with Javier Baez who was the ninth overall pick in 2011. Castro signed a $60 million deal in 2012 for seven years but he could be trade bait once Baez makes it to the majors. That will be especially true if he fails to improve on last season's numbers. Baez hit for a .282 average with 37 home runs, 111 RBIs, and 20 stolen bases in the minors last year. Luis Valbuena will be the starting third basemen but his playing time could be cut if newly acquired Emilio Bonifacio makes the big league club. Bonifacio was signed to a minor league deal but will probably receive some playing time due to his decent bat. If Bonifacio plays some second base, we can see Darwin Barney possibly move to third for some playing time. Barney has tremendous defensive skills but his batting average has been horrid. He had a .208 average in 555 plate appearances last season.
Ryan Sweeney will be the starting centerfielder for the Cubs. He was injured for a good chunk of last season but he showed promising signs when he was healthy. Sweeney might have to battle newly acquired Justin Ruggiano for playing time. Ruggiano adds a right handed bat in the Cubs lineup and he will likely see playing time at each position this season. Ruggiano has 37 home runs in his last 999 plate appearances and should be able to come up with 20-25 home runs in 2014. Sweeney is left handed so we should see a good mix between the two. The Cubs are going to want to get Ruggiano at bats though since he is projected to hit for a .260 average with 20 steals if he can get 500 plate appearances. Nate Schierholtz is coming off of a big season after being let go by the Phillies. He was good for a 1.4 WAR and hit 21 home runs. Schierholtz benefitted from Wrigley which is a more home run friendly ballpark but we are expecting him to regress a bit in 2014. He is another left handed batter for the Cubs outfield which gives even more reason for Ruggiano receiving some playing time. Junior Lake will receive some playing time across all positions and he is a right handed batter. He hit for a .284 average over 254 plate appearances in 2013. Lake should see the majority of action in left field. He is a speedster who should hit for a high average and steal some bases. Lake only had four stolen bags last year but we are expecting that number to climb drastically in 2014. We expect Lake to be hovering around 20-25 stolen bases this year. The Cubs outfield is probably going to be average this season but they have potential to surprise us at the plate.
Welington Castillo is about as mediocre as it goes for a big league catcher. His offense was a big plus for the Cubs last season as he batted for a .272 batting average and .349 on base percentage. The Cubs are banking that his defense improves and if they can get the same offensive production from him as last year then they will be pleased. George Kottaras was brought in to be Castillo's back-up. He is definitely a defensive specialist with a .214 career batting average. We expect Kottaras to be reliable for the Cubs this season but don't expect too much out of either of their catchers.
Jeff Samardzija is the Cubs ace but he regressed in 2013 after posting spectacular number in 2012. Samardzija went 8-13 with a 4.34 ERA last season. His strikeouts per nine fell and his walks per nine rose but his 3.77 xFIP at least give us a little hope that he will return to form in 2014. Travis Wood is the number two starter on Chicago's rotation. Samardzija gets all the attention but Wood might be the team's actual ace. He went 9-12 last season with a 3.11 ERA in his best big league season. Chicago would like to see that same type of pitching out of Wood this year. Edwin Jackson might be the most overpaid and underperforming pitched in the MLB currently. He was absolutely horrible in 2013 but he will still receive the third spot in the Cubs rotation. Hopefully he can show us something better than his ERA of 4.98 in 2013 to prove that he is worth $12 million dollars per year. Jake Arrieta might be the most underrated pitcher on the Cubs rotation. He was acquired in a good deal for Chicago which sent Scott Feldman to the Orioles for Arrieta and relief pitcher Pedro Strop. The value of that deal will only be as good as Arrieta though. He went 4-2 with a 3.66 ERA in Chicago last season. Arrieta is still young and could prove to be a steal for the Cubs. Jason Hammel will likely start his first season with Chicago as their fifth starter. Hammel went 7-8-1 with a 4.97 ERA in 23 starts with the Orioles in 2013. Chris Rusin is another pitcher who could earn a job in the starting staff. He was impressive in 13 starts last season with a 3.93 ERA. The Cubs starting staff is going to be mediocre at best but look for Arrieta to have a surprisingly solid year.
The bullpen was the Cub's most improved area over the offseason. They added lefty Wesley Wright and a steady closer in Jose Veras. Wright is a big acquisition since he provides another left handed arm other than James Russell who was one of the Cubs most dependable throwers in 2013. Wright should be able to take pressure off of him and keep his arm fresh since he won't be needed in every lefty-vs-lefty situation. Pedro Strop was brought in from the Baltimore trade last season and he will battle Veras for the closer job. The Cubs will benefit from the Veras-Strop combo and should be able to hold onto leads in the 8th-9th innings if they are able to get them. Arodys Vizcaino is a former number two prospect in the Braves organization and he had Tommy John surgery in 2012. Vizcaino has a heater of a fastball which goes for 95+ mph and he will surely surprise the average MLB fan in 2014. Justin Grimm is a young right handed who has great upside. He threw just nine innings for the Cubs last season. Hector Rondon is another young thrower and he will round out the Cubs bullpen. If there is a weak link in their secondary pitchers it is likely Rondon who threw for a 4.77 ERA in 2013. The Cubs bullpen represents their best asset and they have the potential to be a dominate force for many years to come.
The Cubs are going to be terrible once again this season. They do have a solid bullpen but that will only go so far for a team that lacks offensive pop and a solid starting rotation. The Cubs outfield got better both offensively and defensively for 2014. Justin Ruggiano should provide a nice right-handed bat for their outfield. They might get to 75 wins this year but that is a best case scenario. It wouldn't be surprising to see them battling another 100 loss season. The Cubs had seven prospects in Baseball America's Top 100 which is tied for the highest amount in the MLB. Chicago is in a full rebuild and their prospects are getting close to making an impact at the big league level. Short stop Javier Baez should see MLB action this season. C.J Edwards is a highly touted right-handed pitcher who could provide a solid base for the Cubs pitching staff in the future. Chicago will have its time in the sun but that will probably be another two years at best.
Projected Record: 71-91
Odds to win World Series: +5000