Like many of you, I went into the off-season thinking we are 2-3 years away from being a playoff contender. We had zero depth at pitching, and outside of Rizzo and Castro, were fairly weak offensively. A few moves by TheoJed have changed my outlook on the upcoming season. Surely signing Scott Baker, Scott Feldman, Carlos Villanueva, Edwin Jackson, and Dioner Navarro will not make us World Series contenders. However, these signings provide the needed depth and put us closer to making the playoffs than we were on game 162 of last season. In the NL, Jackson can play "Ace" for you while Feldman and Baker provide back-end rotational depth. Without a doubt, we are headed in the right direction. As demonstrated by the A's and Orioles last season, anything can happen. So why not us! We are long overdue for a Christmas present from the baseball gods. I'm going to due my best to break-down our 25 man roster (optimistically) and show how we are a potential playoff team.
Catcher: Wellington Castro, Dioner Navarro- Wellington Castro (.265/.418/.755) proved to be a sufficient MLB catcher last season. His offensive numbers were average to above average for NL catchers. He's no Buster Posey, but the potential is there. My problem with him is his ability to throw out runners consistently. If Navarro displays a better chemistry with the staff, I have no problem with them sharing this role. Outside of an injury to Wellington or Dioner, I do not want to see Clev on this team. His offense down the stretch was absolutely atrocious. In summation, an improving Castro and veteran Navarro can patch up what was a weak spot for us last season.
First Base: Anthony Rizzo- I can talk about how much I love Anthony Rizzo (.285/.463/.805) for days on end. Even though he ended the year trending downwards, he is still the biggest threat in our lineup. People who are clamoring to trade Soriano fail to realize that may stunt Rizzo's growth. As long as Rizzo can replicate his early success last year (a feasible task), the rest of the youth should follow suit.
Second Base: Darwin Barney, Luis Valbuena- I was so happy for Darwin when he won the gold glove award last season. He really deserved it. Even though Darwin is not an offensive presence (.254/.354/.653), his glove makes him a solid National League second baseman. Valbuena's versatility will surely land him on the 25 man roster. He can play 2B, SS, 3B, and even OF when asked. Both Darwin and Luis seemed to have their moments last year. If Darwin can bring his numbers up even a tad, TheoJed should extend his contract and use Logan Watkins as trade bait.
Shortstop: Starlin Castro- Spending time talking about Castro is fruitless. We know he is our starting SS for years to come. My only complaint is Castro needs to get his walk numbers up. Through 72 games last year he had single digit walks. I also loved how he played in 162 games last year. It is very important that stars can stay healthy. Look what happened to Votto last year. As far as Junior Lake goes, we know the story with him. He needs to be traded or shift positions. He can start the year in the minors and cement his value as a 3B or OF. Maybe even 2B if that fits TheoJed's fancy. Who knows? Bottom line, if Castro can play in 160+ games and be more patient, Rizzo will be presented with more RBI opportunities and we will score more runs. (I like the sound of that!)
Third Base: Ian Stewart, Josh Vitters- Ian Stewart was beyond a bust last season. He was hurt for most of the year. Even when healthy, Stewart was terrible. As fans, we must acknowledge that he is our opening day third baseman and make the best of it. Vitters will probably start the year in the minors, however, I did not see any other infielder on our 40-man roster that would be on our 25-man roster. Despite his poor performance last year, Vitters may have value platooning with Stewart. Any production at this position will be better than what we had last year. I would sign for a combined .250 AVG, 20 HR, 80 RBI in a heart beat. In a few years Villanueva/Baez will carry the torch and force the likes of Stewart, Vitters, and any other temporary solution out the door.
Outfield: Alfonso Soriano, David DeJesus, Nate Schierholtz, Tony Campana, Dave Sappelt- With Brett Jackson starting in AAA, our opening day starting outfield is set. Soriano in LF, DeJesus in CF, and Schierholtz in RF. Defensively, this outfield is better than it seems. Despite Alfonso's aching knees, his defense has improved since his beginning days in Chicago. I'm not really sure how, but DeJesus is considered a top 15 defensive outfielder according to baseballevaluation.com (based on field value quotient). Schierholtz also has a cannon for an arm in right. Offensively, Soriano, DeJesus and Schierholtz are no hacks. In a National League Central division with crummy pitching, they are all capable of having career years. Campana and Sappelt can fill roles as bench players. Don't expect anything more.
Starting Pitchers: Matt Garza, Edwin Jackson, Jeff Samardzija, Scott Feldman, Travis Wood- According to what I have read on several websites, Garza is on track to be our opening day starter. That's good news considering how dominant he can be when healthy. The other thing I love about Garza is his attitude. He is a true competitor. If the Edwin Jackson deal goes as planned, our rotation becomes below average to slightly above average overnight. Jackson is no Cy Young candidate, but I feel confident that having a consistent home for the next 3-4 years will lead to some success. I give Edwin the benefit of the doubt considering he has zero stability over the past few years. Permanently moving from the AL to the NL may also have an AJ Burnett effect. Samardzija was forced to take on the role of ace last season. He took that role in stride en route to a 3.81 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. Those numbers are inflated due to a few bad starts in the early summer. Towards the end of the year, Shark was routinely churning out quality starts. The acquisition of Feldman is better than most people realize. His bowling ball sinker is perfectly fitted for the days in Wrigley where the wind is blowing straight out to Waveland Ave. Out of these five, I have the least confidence in Wood. He just gave up way too many home runs last year. Luckily, Baker can promptly fill the role as a 5 starter if Wood underachieves.
Reflief Pitchers: Carlos Villanueva, Kyuji Fujikawa, Hector Rondon, Shawn Camp, James Russell, Michael Bowden, Carlos Marmol- Seven spots are up for grabs. We know for a fact that Marmol, Russell, Camp, Fujikawa, and Villanueva (pending the finalizing of the contract) will be part of this bullpen. Rondon, due to Rule 5 terms, will also fill a spot. That leaves one spot. I was debating between Alberto Cabrera, Michael Bowden, and Rafael Dolis. Dolis' strikeout numbers and overall performance last year was not impressive. He could benefit with some work in the minors. I picked Bowden over Cabrera because of his impressive end to last year's season. He finished the year on a 12 scoreless innings streak (only giving up 5 hits and striking out 13 in that span). It may not be overly impressive, but it is for the 7th man out of the pen. Cabrera could also benefit with some work in triple A. If Fujikawa lives up to the hype, our bullpen may actually turn into a strength. I feel very comfortable with Camp/Russell/Fujikawa working the 7th and 8th, Villanueva in long relief, Marmol closing, and Bowden and Rondon filling the "renaissance reliever" roles. If Wood gets booted from the rotation, don't be surprised if he gets moved to the pen. We could use another lefty.
Anyway folks, thanks for reading. On paper we may look like a 65-70 win team, but the truth is you never know. I'm going into the season with my held up high, hoping for the best. Theo and Jed have answered the fans prayers. We are headed in the right direction. Maybe, just maybe, 2013 will be our year.