The Cubs fruit is just about ready to be harvested

There are zero expectations for this year’s Cubs team.  None.  Zilch.  If they went 0-162 on October 1st they’d be greeted by a sea of I told you so’s by the media and faithful fans alike.  It’s been 106 years, I get it.  The thing is that I think this team may not be all that bad…

Now don’t get me wrong here, there’s a difference between “not all that bad” and “good.”  Usually I end these articles with my prediction but this year I’ll open up with it.  I think the Cubs finish this season 72-90.   While nothing to brag about, that record would reflect a six game improvement over last year’s team and this year they’re lacking the “star” power of Alfonso Soriano, Matt Garza, and Carlos Marmol.  The thing is, I think the Cubs – both as an organization for all of the prospects they’ve netted for those players as well as the team that takes the field day in and day out – are better for their departures.

The 2014 Cubs roster is still one in transition.  These are not the 25 guys who are going to be here when they win it all (and the internet subsequently melts) but some of them are and the real core of the future is now literally just a phone call away.

While not making big splashes in the off season, Jed & Theo have compiled a much more balanced and athletic lineup than any I can remember in my lifetime.  Again, I’m not saying it’s the best lineup, but rather balanced.  Of the thirteen position players to break camp with the big club there are six right handed hitters, six lefties, and one switch hitter.  There are numerous players that can play two or more positions.  Upper management has given new manager Ricky Renteria an agile lineup that he can customize on a day-to-day basis either based on his guy or by the numbers.  In essence there will always be logical options on the bench for pinch hitting and pinch running scenarios as they arise.  The lineup is still very much built around a boom or bust approach as I anticipate strikeouts accumulating faster than parking tickets in Wrigleyville this summer, but I don’t know that there are as many automatic outs in the batting order as there have been over the past few years.

While the offense is still a work in progress what I really am excited for is the pitching, particularly the bullpen.  Our starters are not world beaters by any means but they are going to fill the role of work horses who can carry the water and keep the team in games for the most part.  I anticipate Edwin Jackson will be better than he was last year (how could he not) and Travis Wood will regress (he’s not the 7th best pitcher in the National League as some numbers from 2013 would suggest).  Jason Hammel will be very Scott Feldman/Paul Maholm-like and I have high hopes for Jake Arrieta when he returns.  The difference this year is that when there is the inevitable sell off of starters in July – I’d think any of Samardzija, Hammel, and/or Jackson could all be gone by August – the talent that will fill in behind them will be as good or even better than the guys who just left.  In 2012 during the initial swap meet of the rotation I think the front office forgot that they still had two months of baseball left and they were going to need guys to start those games for them.  Unfortunately the cupboard was bare behind them.  I guess that two month suck-fest resulted in Kris Bryant (via the #2 pick in the draft) but man was it tough to watch.  Now when starters begin to disappear legitimate pitchers like a more seasoned Chris Rusin, Kyle Hendricks & Neil Ramirez are a call away at AAA and the CJ Edwards/Pierce Johnson/Corey Black/Ivan Piniero quartet at AA will all have made significant strides at AA.

In the bullpen the Carlos Marmol Experience has come to an end and been replaced by what appears to be the equally volatile José Veras Rollercoaster to end games but the rest of the group is a significant improvement over what we’ve seen in years past.  Far too often games have gotten away from the Cubs in the sixth through ninth innings in years past due to the collection of misfit toys they’ve have assembled down the left field line.  This year aside from Wesley Wright (who I’m still not sold on) and the aforementioned Veras, the Cubs have a collection of home grown flame throwers who should saw off enough bats to keep any game from getting too far out of hand.  Names like Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop, and Hector Rondon are going to be key components on this team when the games really begin meaning something in the next few years.

So sorry Cubs fans, we all knew this getting in but I’m just going to re-iterate it once more, this is not our year.  The good news is that the total tear down of the organization is complete and the rebuilt talent structure is starting to bear fruit.  As this season progresses and the like of Javier Baez & Arismedy Alcantara begin to percolate into the lineup and fellow rocket launcher Arodys Vizcaino joins the bullpen we’re really going to begin to see the fruits of Theo & Jed’s labor in prime time.  This is just the beginning Cubs fans so get on board now, it’s going to be a fantastic ride…

Eventually.