Winter Report Card: Chicago Cubs
With little more than a month before pitchers and catchers report, we’re checking in on how each team has fared in conducting its offseason business while acknowledging that there’s still time for its prognosis to change. Teams will be presented in reverse order of finish from 2013.
2013 results: 66-96 (.407), 5th place NL Central (Hot Stove Preview)
Key departures: OF Brian Bogusevic, Kevin Gregg RHP*, Matt Guerrier RHP*, C Dioner Navarro, MGR Dale Sveum (* = free agent, still unsigned)
Key arrivals: Manager Rick Renteria, C George Kottaras, CF Justin Ruggiano, RHP Jose Veras, LHP Wesley Wright
The above list does not include this, but in terms of players, there’s not much to see here, just one-for-one replacements for the departing players. Veras, who will close, and Wright were teammates in the Astros’ bullpen in 2013, and both were flipped to contenders late in the season. With both on one-year contracts (combined $5.8 million), don’t be surprised to see them again finish the season elsewhere. Kottaras was selected off waivers to replace departing free agent Navarro. Ruggiano was acquired from the Marlins for Bogusevic in a low-level challenge trade and will battle Ryan Sweeney for a share of the centerfield job.
The most significant replacement here may prove to be rookie manager Rick Renteria, who unlike many other recent first-time major league managers, does have some managerial experience, having spent eight years in the minor leagues in the Marlins’ and Padres’ systems as well as managing Team Mexico in last year’s World Baseball Classic. His tallest and most important task this season will be helping shortstop Starlin Castro realize his potential.
Unfinished business: Starting pitching
With Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Welington Castillo and Junior Lake in the major league lineup and hitting prospects Albert Almora, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler on the way, the Cubs’ primary task over the next few seasons is building a talented young pitching staff to compliment those young hitters. Thus far this offseason they have made no meaningful progress in that area.
The Cubs are expected to go hard after Masahiro Tanaka, with Comcast SportsNet’s Patrick Mooney reporting that the team is “prepared to make a nine-figure investment” in the Japanese ace. That said, Tanaka is focused on joining “a team with a possibility of winning a World Series,” according to the Toronto Sun‘s Bob Elliott. The Cubs have also been trying to work out an extension with Jeff Samardzija, who turns 29 in two weeks and would be a free agent after the 2015 season, but so far the two sides remain far apart, per Mooney.
If Chicago fails on both fronts, it could take aim at next winter’s free-agent pitcher class, which currently projects to include Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, James Shields, Jon Lester and Homer Bailey, though several of those pitchers could be extended in the interim.
Preliminary Grade: C
This grade is something of an incomplete, but the small moves the Cubs made were solid ones, and Renteria arrives with an excellent reputation.