Year 1 or Wait till Next Year for Cubs?
More than a century since their last World Series title, the Chicago Cubs have a slogan for 2010: Year 1. As in their first season under new ownership.
Tom Ricketts and his family have been busy since taking over in October, sprucing up Wrigley Field, continually seeking new revenue streams and developing plans to build a new spring training complex.
Businessman/fan Ricketts promises the family is in for the long haul and committed to winning. And with the Cubs, looking for their first World Series title since 1908, winning has long been a challenge.
Last season, after back-to-back division titles, the Cubs slipped to 83-78, knocked down by the ineffective play of highly paid players and a long series of injuries that landed the likes of Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster, Ted Lilly, Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano and Geovany Soto on the disabled list.
``We need to stay healthy. But look, those are things that every teams says,'' said manager Lou Piniella, headed into the fourth and final year of his contract.
The Cubs need for Zambrano to pitch to his $91.5 million contract after winning just nine games a year ago. And they need Soriano, in the fourth year of an eight-year, $136 million deal, to stay healthy and hit higher than .241. He did have 20 homers and 55 RBIs before missing the final month and having knee surgery.
``We've got to get that 20 into the 30s and those 50s into the 80s. He should be able to do that because we're going to have some nice offense in front of him. Those numbers are very doable for a player of his caliber. Sixth hole is a good spot for him, good RBI spot,'' Piniella said.
And outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, who will play his more comfortable right field this season after the departure of the troubled Milton Bradley and the acquisition of Marlon Byrd, is being counted on for consistency after failing to reach .260 for the second straight season since signing a four-year $48 million deal.
Zambrano, the emotional ace who pledges he will control his outbursts this season, will head a rotation that includes Ryan Dempster, Randy Wells - who went 12-10 as a rookie last season - Carlos Silva and Tom Gorzelanny to start the season. Lefty Ted Lilly, the team's most consistent starter the last three seasons, is expected to rejoin the team in mid-April following offseason shoulder surgery.
Silva came over from Seattle in a trade for Bradley, whose first and only season with the Cubs was a bust - a .257 average with just 40 RBIs in nearly 400 at-bats before he was suspended in late September for conduct detrimental to the team.
Xavier Nady, coming off elbow surgery, will be a backup outfielder along with rookie Tyler Colvin, the team's hottest hitter in spring training. Mike Fontenot beat Jeff Baker out as the starter at second and his former college teammate, Ryan Theriot, returns at shortstop after losing an arbitration hearing early in spring training. Theriot will be the leadoff hitter. Chad Tracy beat out veteran Kevin Millar for a utility role.
Carlos Marmol, who took over as closer late last season, has that role all to himself but is prone to bouts of wildness. Jeff Samardzija, the former Notre Dame football star, and lefty Sean Marshall will be in the bullpen after not making the rotation. Lefty John Grabow has experience and could be used in setup. The Cubs also lost a reliable reliever when Angel Guzman needed shoulder surgery.
The heart of the team is still the 3-4 hitters, Derrek Lee - coming off a .306, 35-homer and career-high 111-RBI season - and cleanup hitter Aramis Ramirez. Ramirez missed two months a year ago with a dislocated shoulder and still drove in 65 runs.
Byrd, who will bat fifth, is a dependable center fielder coming off a solid season in Texas and is also a strong clubhouse presence.
No player was a bigger disappointment last season than 2008 NL rookie of the year Soto. His average dropped from .285 to .218, his homers fell off from 23 to 11 and his RBIs went from 86 to 47. He spent time on the DL after hurting his oblique. And there was also the embarrassing revelation that he tested positive for marijuana during the World Baseball Classic.
Soto came ready this spring after dropping 40 pounds. Getting him back to the form he showed two seasons ago when he started the All-Star game is a must for the Cubs.
``We've got all the pieces here. It's just a question of some of our veteran guys stepping forward and doing what they're fully capable of doing,'' Piniella said.
``And if they do, we're going to be in darn good shape.''
After scoring 148 fewer runs last season than in 2008, the Cubs signed former Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, who's worked previously with Soriano when he was in Texas.
``We need Soriano to bounce back and have the type of year he's capable of. We need Fukudome. We need the catcher to improve,'' Piniella said.
``We need to keep Ramirez in the lineup. Derrek to hit the way he did from May on. We'll have a nice offense. And we'll have a better bench.''