David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
The 2014 Chicago Cubs will have a very similar look to the 2013 campaign, and they just might have the same results. For all parties involved, the 2013 season was a year to forget. Entering into year two of the Theo Epstein administration the expectations were not very high last year, and 365 days later they are not much better. With spring training right around the corner, fans are starting to get restless waiting to see improvements at the major league level. The Cubs have been relatively inactive this offseason, with hiring new manager Rick Renteria being their biggest addition (that is if they cannot sign pitcher Masahiro Tanaka), so the 2013 roster will look close to the 2014 roster.
Although I would like to see the Cubs make the playoffs as much as anyone, 2014 will not be the year Cubs finally break the curse of the billy goat, but that doesn’t mean they cannot improve. It seems as though the majority of the Cubs prospects will spend another year in the minor league system allowing them to have one more year to develop before they are called upon to take the Cubs to the promise land. Since this year will be another lost season in the grand scheme of the Theo Epstein administration it will give several players a chance to improve in the major and minor league levels before fan’s patience start to run out.
Renteria was not the most popular choice for the Cubs managerial job, but he has been noted for his superb player development skills, something Chicago hopes he will excel in for the Cubs. First basemen Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro are seen as core players for many years to come, but their struggles in 2013 left fans doubting if they would ever reach their full potential. The two, with the help of Renteria, will have bounce back seasons all while having another year of experience under their belts. Castro will most likely take over the leadoff spot and Rizzo will take the reigns of the 3 or 4 spot in the batting order, which would be a smart move by Renteria because those could be their permanent batting spots for years to come. The two will not have MVP caliber seasons, but improvement will be seen and most importantly it will establish their confidence to lead the team in 2015.
Even though this has been a quiet off season for the Cubs, they have drastically improved their bullpen, something that was much needed. Last season as a team the Cubs blew 40% of their save opportunities, this combined with the lack of hitting solves the 66-96 record. With the additions of Wesley Wright, Jose Veras, and the return of Kyuji Fujikawa from injury next season, the bullpen will be much more reliable.
The Cubs starting pitching staff will be another strength of the team. Cubs executives are still trying to sign Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, whether he comes to the North Side or not, the Cubs send out an experienced pitching staff. Led by Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood the pitching staff has the potential to be effective this season. They are not one of the best staffs in the league, but they have the potential to a top 10, top 15 pitching staff. For a season that no one expects the Cubs to play well this will be over achieving.
The second half of the season may be more interesting than the first half. Theo and the Cubs might be big sellers again during the trade deadline, but the month of September will be the most important time of the year. This will be the first chance to see some of the Cubs prospects play in the major league level. Do not expect Theo to rush anyone to the majors, but we will get our first glimpses of the future of the Cubs in September.
Progress is something that Cubs fans have been waiting for, so 2014 could be a breath of fresh air in all aspects of the game. Prospects will have another year to develop, and Renteria will help the Cubs improve; putting them in great position for the 2015 season. The Cubs will have flashes of greatness, but the lack of hitting and depth issues will leave them with a 77-85 record.
It has been said that the Cubs will not win the World Series until hell freezes over, but with the recent weather in Chicago, who knows, this just might be the year.