This off-season has taken a remarkable turn for the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs entered the off-season after a 2012 season that saw the team lose 101 games in the inaugural season of Cubs’ president Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer, and manager Dale Sveum. Despite the fact that Cubs lost 101 games in 2012, the expectation was that the team would not stray away from their plans to fully renovate the organization with long term assets acquired through trading short term assets with the goal of competing in 2014. The Cubs have not followed that practice this season. The only trade attempt that the Cubs made this off-season was a trade that would have sent closer Carlos Marmol to the Los Angeles Angels. However, the Cubs were not set to acquire talented prospects from the Angels’ farm system. Rather the Cubs would have acquired oft-injured veteran starting pitcher Dan Haren had the trade been finalized. Even though the trade was never finalized, many questioned the Cubs motifs as the move did not appear to fit with the type of moves that the Cubs made in their previous off-season. After that failed trade, the Cubs went on a free agent signing spree that included starting pitchers Scott Baker and Scott Feldman, relief pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa, catcher Dioner Navarro, outfielder Nate Schierholtz, and swing-pitcher Carlos Villanueva. Most notably the Cubs signed veteran starting pitcher Edwin Jackson to a four year, $52 million deal.
The Cubs have continued their efforts to trade Marmol and left fielder Alfonso Soriano this off-season, though the expectation is that both players will start the season with the Cubs. A majority of the signings seem to fit with the idea that the Cubs are waiting for 2014 to contend, but after the addition of Jackson, it could be argued that the Cubs look more like a team that is trying to contend in 2013 than a team that is continuing their rebuild.
Prior to the Cubs Convention this weekend, Cubs’ players, coaches, and executives are going throughout the city as part of their caravan tour. Cubs’ manager Dale Sveum appears to realize that the Cubs, on paper, are significantly better than they were at the start of the 2012 season. Sveum thinks the Cubs have improved so much that he calls a .500 finish to the 2013 season unacceptable.
The one thing you hate doing is saying, ‘[finishin] .500 will be good,’ because it’s not good,” Sveum said Wednesday. “It’s not 101 losses, but .500 isn’t getting you to the playoffs. Just getting in the playoffs is satisfactory. … In a perfect world, if [Matt] Garza and [Scott] Baker are ready to go Opening Day, its not a bad staff to have [Jeff] Samardzija, Garza and [Edwin] Jackson at the top and the other guys in the four, five spots. Fujikawa would come in the eight inning, Marmol in the ninth, there’s so many things that are so much better going into this season than last year. [Finishing] .500 is, like I said, still not acceptable.” Muskat Ramblings
Unacceptable? If the Cubs were to finish at the .500 mark for the 2013 season, that would be a 20 game improvement from the 2012 season. That would be an improvement that I would certainly deem as acceptable. Cubs fans should not overlook the notion that the Cubs could finish the 2013 season as a .500 team or better. The Cubs have the potential to have a very strong starting rotation. If the likes of Baker and Matt Garza can stay healthy, and Jeff Samardzija continues to groom towards the top of the rotation; the Cubs will have one of the best rotations in the National League. The saying that pitching wins championships has never been more true, especially post-steroid era. With the pitching staff that the Cubs have assembled, the team certainly will be much more competitive this season.
Sveum was not the only member of the Cubs’ organization that indicated the Cubs could be thinking playoffs for the 2013 season. Epstein shared the similar sentiments.
“Absolutely, otherwise there’s no reason to show up or build a team,” Epstein said. “It’s postseason or bust every year. That’s what our goal is. Now that said, we’re obviously building for something greater, which is a time when we can expect to be in the postseason every year.
“So behind the scenes, regardless of the results, there’s progress being made. But as far as 2013, you can define it as a success or failure by whether we make the postseason and, ultimately, whether we win the World Series.
“There are stories every year about teams that don’t necessarily look like the favorites on paper that find their way playing meaningful games in September and playing into October and playing deep into October.” CSN Chicago
Of course many may overlook these comments and play it off as a team executive with a cliched response prior to the beginning of the season. My suggestion to those people would be to think about the person who is making those comments. The person making those comments is Theo Epstein. Epstein is perhaps the smartest baseball executive in all of baseball. While Epstein echoed the same sentiment about the idea of “postseason or bust every year”, the Cubs’ president indicated prior to the start of the 2012 season that the team was not built to make the postseason. That is not the case as we inch closer to the beginning of the 2013 season. Epstein suggests that the Cubs’ success in 2013 will be determined by whether or not the team makes the postseason in 2013. There is no question that the Cubs’ front office will continue to look for long-term assets, that is why the likes of Garza, Marmol, and Soriano could all be traded at some point during the season. But, all three of those players are expected to be on the Cubs’ opening day roster.
As for the question of whether or not the Cubs can contend in 2013, I certainly think it is possible. The Cubs have an improved pitching staff that could rival some of the top teams in the National League, and that alone could be the reason why the team is able to contend. Where the question mark lies is with the team’s offense. First baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro are both expected to take big strides in their development this season, and both figure to be the focal points of the Cubs’ offense. Assuming Soriano is not traded before the season, the left fielder appears to be one of the few legitimate run producers in the team’s lineup. A healthy Ian Stewart may also contribute to the offensive success for the 2013 season as well.
One thing is clear, the Cubs are not entering 2013 with the same strategy that the team had in 2012. The Cubs are expecting to contend this season, and there is a realistic chance that they could, and that should signal excitement for Cubs fans everywhere.