The Reds-Cardinals Rivalry Will Only Heat Up [FanIQ NL Central Preview]
CF David DeJesus
SS Starlin Castro
1B Anthony Rizzo
LF Alfonso Soriano
RF Nate Schierholtz/Scott Hairston
3B Ian Stewart
C Welington Castillo
2B Darwin Barney
RHP Jeff Samardzija
RHP Edwin Jackson
RHP Scott Feldman
LHP Travis Wood
RHP Carlos Villaneuva
Closer: RHP Carlos Marmol
Key Losses: 1B Bryan LaHair, SP Chris Volstad
Last year was the bottom out year for the Cubs as they lost 101 games. For the offseason, Theo Epstein and his brain trust made some reasonable upgrades at decent prizes, most notably Edwin Jackson. Jackson will never be a star, but he’s above average, durable, and still only 29. At 4 years and $52 million, you can do much worse. Jackson will be the #3 starter once Matt Garza comes back from his lat injury (remember the above rotation is for Opening Day), behind Garza and Samardzija, one of last year’s pleasant surprises. The other new starter Feldman is more of a stopgap, but at least is only signed for a year. Overall, it’s a decent but far from spectacular rotation, particularly if Garza is traded.
The lineup last year couldn’t even scratch out four runs a game, so there’s nowhere to go but up. The bottom line is the only potential stars are Castro and Rizzo, and as such they are the building blocks. The other decent young assets in this lineup are Castillo, who showed potential after a 106 OPS+ year (good for a catcher) in 2012, and possibly outfielder Brett Jackson, who can be a starter if he cuts down on the whiffs. Guys like DeJesus and the right field platoon are solid vets, but won’t be on the next good Cubs team. Soriano finally stopped being terrible at least, although it still probably wasn’t enough for someone to take the last two years of that massive deal. Second and third base remain black holes unless Josh Vitters actually figures it out. Like the pitching, the lineup could be decent, but it will be far from great.
Carlos Marmol is still the closer, but who knows if he actually ends the season in that role.
The rebuild is moving at a decent pace, but it won’t be quick, and guys like Garza and DeJesus could still be traded. If you squint hard enough, .500 is possible, but the real goal of the year is for what young talent is on the North Side to take another step forward.
Projected Record: 69-93
Down on the Farm: Not surprisingly, Epstein has been focused on building the farm system, and as such has a few exciting prospects in the low minors. SS Javier Baez tops the list after a breakout .889 OPS in A-ball as a 19 year old with power potential. The team’s first round pick last year, OF Albert Almora, and Cuban signing OF Jorge Soler also have great tools that need time to develop skills. The cupboard is barer closer to the big leagues, but we could SP Arodys Vizcaino, acquired in the Paul Maholm trade, in Wrigley at some point this year depending on how has Tommy John recovery goes.
Those are my picks and predictions for the NL Central this season. What are yours?