The distance the Cubs need to travel in 2014 seems daunting, so let's break it down

The distance the Cubs need to travel in 2014 seems daunting, so let's break it down

One of the things I do to break up a long journey is to break up the ride into parts.  The amount of travel time and distance needed can seem daunting at times.

I get that feeling when I look at the Cubs 2014 season.

If I'm going to think of the Cubs as a team trying to improve from 66 wins to contention (or at least respectability), it seems insurmountable.  There's been no significant offseason moves.  Where are those wins supposed to come from?

It's the time of year when we've seen prognosticators predict doom for the Cubs.  Most have them as one of the 5 worst teams in baseball.  I'm not saying they're wrong.  They're probably right.  If I had to bet (and thankfully, I don't), I'd bet against the Cubs.

But...

There are always surprise teams in baseball.  I think many prognostications tend to be too broad in scope.  I think they tend to overestimate the impact of the offseason as well as some of the meaningless wins and losses from the previous season.  The offseason is sometimes treated like an accounting ledger of assets gained and lost.  Those assets are then translated to net wins gained or lost, then those expected wins in turn are added or subtracted to last years total.

There are so many variables to a season that I think trying to calculate wins this way becomes unwieldy, so I want to break it down just a little bit.  In fact, I'm going to break the season down to three numbers: 95, 50, and 7.  Consider those to be the Cubs magic numbers for 2014.

Here's why...

  • 95:  This is the number of games until the All-Star Break, which is just a couple of weeks before the deadline.  It's the make or break point in the season.  By the time the Cubs get to this point, their fate for the 2014 will already be decided, just as it has been the past two seasons.
  • 50:  This is the amount of wins the Cubs need to achieve an 85 win pace by the all-star break.  You've heard me say many times that the most important wins are those between 85-95.  You could say that is especially true of 85-90 wins because adding wins from there could mean the difference between going to the playoffs and staying home.
  • 7: The Cubs need to win 7 more games then they did at the same point in 2013, when they were 43-52.  That would put them at 50-45 and on a pace to win 85 games at the all-star break.  If the Cubs get to this point, then they need to call off the fire sale.  In fact, they may need to become buyers because now they are adding wins to an 85 win team -- those extra wins suddenly have much more value.  Those wins can be bought from outside the organization, but they can also be added from within.

There are certain areas where the Cubs can add wins and certain areas where they'll just have to hold serve.  The team is built only to add wins incrementally early in the season, so they can't afford to lose much ground at any position for the first couple of months.

Holding Serve

The Starting Rotation

Assuming the top 3 of Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, and Edwin Jackson can maintain their respective 1st half  FIPs of 3.61, 3.59, and 3.71 in some way, I'm looking more at the back end of the rotation.  Wood is projected to regress a bit, but Jackson should rebound and make up for the loss.  Though he is always a candidate to break out, we will assume Samardzija will stay around the same level of production.

The other Cubs starters were Matt Garza, Carlos Villanueva, and Scott Feldman.  However you slice them and dice them, they were all remarkably similar as far a first half production.  Their FIPs ranged from 3.73 to 3.80.   Villanueva is still around, so we'll consider that a wash.  The Cubs are going to have to get the same  kind of production from Jason Hammel and Jake Arrieta as they did from Garza and Feldman.  Can they put up FIPs in that 3.75-380 range?  We don't know, but it's certainly plausible.  Arrieta and Hammel both project to have an FIP in the low 4s, so it's not a huge stretch.  And even if they do put an FIP in the low 4s as projected, it's not going to be a significant drop off.

David DeJesus

This void needs to be filled by Ryan Sweeney.  DeJesus was a slightly above league average offensive player in the first half with a .334 wOBA (108 RC+), so the Cubs aren't expecting miracles from Ryan Sweeney.  For what it's worth, his RC+ was 110 in his short time with the Cubs while Steamer projects him to be roughly a league average offensive player at 99 RC+ for 2014.

Alfonso Soriano

This is the void that scares people but the truth is that Soriano was a 1 win player during his time with the Cubs.  His RC+ was a league average 102 (.326 wOBA).  The void must be filled at least in some part by Junior Lake, who actually had a higher WAR (1.2) as a Cub in 2013 than Soriano -- and he did it in less games.

Some do expect Lake to regress from his surprisingly solid debut, but the Cubs should also gain production with the addition of RH power hitter Justin Ruggiano.  Technically Ruggiano is replacing a negative in Scott Hairston, so anything on the plus side is gravy.

Where to find the 7 wins

The bullpen

The Cubs relied heavily on Carlos Marmol, Shawn Camp, and Michael Bowden early last season and it resulted in quite a few blown leads.  The bullpen didn't really get stabilized until the team installed waiver wire pick-up Kevin Gregg at the closer position.  On May 5th, the Cubs were 11-20 with at least 4 losses resulting from bullpen implosions.  If the Cubs can just get off to a decent start and cut that in half, then that alone will get them on the right track toward making up those wins.

Anthony Rizzo

Rizzo was hitting .241/.328/.441 and spiraling downward at the break last year.  He had an RC+ of 109 (.335 wOBA), so he was slightly above average -- but not for a 1B.  Rizzo needs to step it up and capture the stroke he had in 2012, when he was a 1.7 WAR player in just over a half season's worth of games (87).  I actually believe Rizzo will surpass that production and add at least one win to last year's first half total.

Starlin Castro

Castro's season long nightmare is over.  He gets a fresh start after hitting .245/.283/.357 (in the first half) with a utility infielder-like 72 RC+.  There is no question Castro has the ability to improve on that by leaps and bounds.  He's been a 3 WAR player for most of his career.  He was replacement level at the break last year.  Even if we assume a simple return to a 3 WAR season, we can call that an extra 1-2 wins over last year at the break.

Welington Castillo

It seems odd putting Castillo here when he had one of the better season among Cubs regulars.  The problem was that most of it came after the season was pretty much in the tank.  What the Cubs need Castillo to do is carry more of the load in the 1st half after hitting just .266/.324/.353 (86 RC+) at the break last year.  What's the difference if he does it in the first half vs. the second half?  The difference is getting to those 50 wins by the break.  Those wins are more valuable to the Cubs early in the season.  With Castillo, more of that production in the first half could add a win to the total.  However, considering backup George Kottaras likely won't outproduce Dioner Navarro's first half as a backup, the Cubs may be content just to hold serve here.

2B/3B

Everyone knows how Barney's season went last year.  I probably don't need to spell it out statistically.  The truth is the Cubs cannot withstand that lack of offensive production again.  He's either going to improve or he's going to step aside at some point.  If Barney himself can improve his production from below replacement level to a half season of the 2 WAR player he's been in the past, then that alone will add at least a win.

And if that doesn't happen, the alternative is to replace him with the Luis Valbuena/Donnie Murphy platoon and install Mike Olt at 3B.  Assuming the platoon player's numbers are relatively similar, the Cubs would have to hope for a win or two upgrade from Mike Olt's presence in the lineup over Barney's.

Adding and possibly buying on a 50 win (pace of 85 wins) team at the break

This would make the end of the season fun for a change.  Even in this optimistic scenario, the Cubs won't be in a position to sell long term assets for short term pieces, so while we won't see the Cubs become big buyers, they will hold on to the players they have and quite possibly add players at key positions for the last 2 months of the season.   Potential internal impact additions include...

  • Arodys Vizcaino
  • Javier Baez
  • Arismendy Alcantara
  • Kris Bryant

I also like the idea of taking on a salary on someone like Carlos Gonzalez if the prospect cost is low and comes from areas of depth.  Gonzalez is still young enough and signed through 2017.  He'd add a lefty bat and a veteran presence that will still be in his productive low 30s as the Cubs become contenders.

So don't think of this as a huge 162 game journey for the Cubs to build on.  Break it down first to 95 games -- and you can further break those down into 3 one month increments.  Can the Cubs add just 2 wins per month?  If you can picture that, then you can picture them adding 7 wins by the time they get to the all-star break.

And if they can get there, all bets are off for the 2014 season.

 

Filed under: Uncategorized

Comments

Leave a comment
  • Wins are great, but have they improved in overall performance?
    Hittings in the right situations, bunting when needed, taking the
    extra base when needed, throwing to the cut-off-man, etc.
    Develop the overall mind set of the team

  • In reply to emartinezjr:

    I think the two will go hand in hand. Better play will almost certainly result in more wins. And if that better play is coming from the core, then I"ll take that in a heartbeat.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I very much enjoy your writing and find us of a same mind much more than not. I agree completely with your article. The smart money is to bet against the Cubs, but there is a large amount of untapped potential in this team and who could be coming throughout the season. All worst to first teams have a large number of guys that have breakout seasons. I think when Arizona did it a few years ago they had 9 guys make the breakout season list I saw. All indicators is that the offense should be better and that Rizzo and Castro will be substantially better. The starting rotation has more depth than last year and should be at least as good as what they started with last year. The bullpen, to me, is the difference maker this year. They'll have 2 or 3 guys they will have to exclude from the pen that would have been strong in the April 2013 pen. If Vizcaino is truly healthy, he has potential to be one of the best relievers in baseball. I'm not even going to add in the potential difference makers that could be added to the Cubs from the minors. Another number I would add to your list is 2. If 2 Cubs have superstar seasons I believe they make their 50 wins by the all star game.
    The Cubs strongest offseason acquisitions may have been maturation and a positive outlook. If those 2 things come together right the boys will be fun to watch this year.

  • In reply to brightfuture14:

    Thank you for the kind words.

    I can see where you are coming from. It's certainly not something I'm counting on, but I don't see any of those scenarios you lay out as a big stretch. I go into each season somewhat optimistic. It's my nature, but I also am not blindly optimistic. I can easily see where this can all go to pot in a month as it did last season. Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst!

    Right now, it's spring -- and I"m going to be optimistic until (if) things go south. I'd like to see these prospects come into a winning situation -- or at least one where the team is competitve.

  • All I am looking for is general improvement, i don't expect contention....yet. If the Cubs improve to 78-80 wins, I will consider this upcoming season a moderate success.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Steve Flores:

    Agreed. While some may advocate for another atrocious season, I would rather see the successes of our core lead us to a middle of the road pack, or better if possible. From there, improve the line up internally through the seemingly endless amount of top notch prospects and buy additional pieces where there are holes. If the Cubs go .500 this year, I'll be very pleased. If we bomb, we get another high draft pick, but more questions about our future and our core may arise.

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    General improvement from the core is what I'm hoping for -- but sometimes these things have unintended consequences.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Agreed, the downside is not drafting as high next year. However I like the Cubs approach , unlike the Houston Astros scorched earth way. Yes, you draft #1 or 2 every year....the downside is that you risk driving off much of your fan base for a while but not even trying to put a decent product on the field.

  • In reply to Steve Flores:

    Agreed. The Astros don't even have a choice of #1 or #2. They just pick #1 every year --- and it might happen again. Scott Feldman is their #1 starter.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    back in the A.L. West, I see his 5th season with an ERA of 5.00+ coming

  • fb_avatar

    Yet another article that helps keep positivity within the realm of possibility. I think an additional factor that could lead to a turn around is the new coaching staff. I'm really happy with the guys they've hired and I think the impact it has will be detrimental to having an improved 2014 season. Worst case scenario is we end up having a crummy season and in 2015, many of these prospect will be major league ready and hopefully blow us away.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Bret Epic:

    prospects***

  • fb_avatar

    I confess I had never thought about the Cubs' chances this season that way. It does make it easier to be hopeful.

    And let's not forget: runs differential say the Cubs were pretty unlucky before the all-star break last season. Their expected win-loss record according to their runs differential through the first 95 games should have been 46-49.

  • In reply to João Lucas:

    Good point. The run differential factor makes for an even strong argument. Wish I would have included that.

  • Ha! Now I know what you meant you said you'll be "stoking too" the fire. I love it, John.

    As I recall it, no one was expecting anything form '84, '89 and '03 Cubs at the start of those seasons. I'm not saying/expecting Cubs will make playoffs, but there's that intangible element, call it magic or buzz or whatever, that a team can capture to propel it far beyond expectations. Baez getting called up would be huge log thrown into the fire. Baez and Bryant would be gasoline!

    You can blow out a candle
    But you can't blow out a fire
    Once the flames begin to catch
    The wind will blow it higher

  • Even if we happen to be 50-45 at the break, I don't think that makes it clear we should be buyers. You have to look at how we got there, run differential, which players are over and underperforming, where we are in the standings compared to the rest of the teams, chances of sustaining that performance, etc. For example, say Hammel is having a great year and you don't consider him to be part of the future. Do you extract future value for him or not? Definitely not black and white.

  • In reply to Eric:

    Nothing is black and white, but it's hard to see the Cubs with that kind of record without significant contribution from their younger, more talented core of players.

    Even if they don't buy, I think 50 wins probably prevents a sell-off. It might even encourage Samardzija to extend. If the Cubs make any moves, they'd be minor or geared toward the future.

    As far as the Hammel question, I think that depends on what else is going on. If Kyle Hendrick is tearing things up in AAA, for example, maybe that makes it easier. Maybe the Cubs deal Hammel in a similar deal as they made with Feldman -- that is, you get young players who can contribute that season and the long term. If the Cubs were 50-45 last year, I would have still been happy with the Feldman deal, all things considered.

  • There's an awful lot of "stars" that have to align just right for this not to be similar to the last 2 years.... I'd say it's very unlikely that more than half of them do. Which is still okay if it's the right half.

    Things I'm hoping for... Obviously the growth in development of our core guys. i.e., Shark, Castro, Rizzo, Beef. and I'll add Wood, Arietta, and Jr Lake to that. I'd like to see Olt nail down 3B, because I think it's foolish to expect similar performance from our 3B platoon. That underwhelming duo is due for some regression...

    I'f we got that much and Baez/Bryant/Alcantara/Soler, etc got some MLB AB's and didn't look completely overwhelmed, then we are setting pretty good for 2015....

  • fb_avatar

    I'd just like to see the Cubs be a bit more competitive but the selfish part of me doesn't want to see them get over 73 wins. 73 wins would probably insure another top 5 pick and lets face it, if we aren't going to the playoffs then why fight to get an extra 5-8 wins over the 73?

    This could very well be the last season we could hope for another top 5 pick as I fully expect the waves of talent to start rolling in sometime after the All-Star break.

    For me, I really want to see Olt solidify himself as our 3B of the future. I gotta see Castro fight to show everyone why he was the talk of baseball. Rizzo better get his head outta his ass or realize that there is a really hungry kid just behind that is out to prove he belongs!

    I also would love to see a pitcher down on the farm emerge as a solid #2 type of guy. If we can hold onto 2 or 3 pitchers with #2 type of stuff it would have to make folks forget that Tanaka snubbed us.

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    This isn't about being competitive or not. This is about the core set of players getting better. If they get better, play better baseball, we will win more games.

    If the core does not improve, they will not play better and we will lose a lot of games.

    So if the Cubs have a Top5 pick, that means the likes of Rizzo, Castro, Shark, Wood and Arrieta did not play well, and where does that leave us?

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    This is very much how I feel. I think a good season has to come from the core and that is the most important thing that could happen for this team.

  • In reply to IrwinFletcher:

    You will have also have other potential core players, like Olt, Alcantara, Baez, and Bryant playing.

    It will be disappointing if he we get a top 5 pick with all those young players on the field.

  • In reply to bocabobby:

    The progress of the core and wins are connected. If the Cubs win 73 games, maybe they have another high pick but it may also mean they have a lot more question marks. I dont' think it's worth the payoff at all. I'd rather have some core players breakthrough than get another pick. You can't switch on a certain year when they all start playing well at the same time and one more bad year from Castro, Rizzo, Arrieta, and others will be 3 steps backward to get a player who probably won't help them until 2017, assuming he pans out.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    I can see your point but there is a scenario where this FO doesn't want to start the clock for guys like Bryant and Baez. This would be very true if the Cubs are not buyers at the deadline like you write about in this article.

    In this scenario, Shark gets traded at the deadline and we see the same weak finish to the season as we've seen in the past 2 years. The only core guys left on the mlb roster would be Castro and Rizzo and possibly Wood. I would then think we would see the Cubs go with a whole wave of young guys to start the 2015 season.

    And thus my top 5 draft choice scenario plays out. This organization is not as far away as some want to believe. But this season is gonna be ugly as well. Like I said earlier, it's important to see how Castro and Rizzo bounce back and if Olt can secure the 3B job. These are the only questions that need addressing in the 2014 season, imo....

  • This coming July should the last one to trade players that don't
    fit our long term plans and flip them for prospects. Aug will
    start a new era.

  • I like it. All winter I've been chuckling every time I hear the "experts" penciling in the Cubs as a 100 lost team and writing off 2014 already before the first pitch is thrown. I haven't been convinced the front office has given up on 2014 either.

    From my perspective the Cubs front office has slowly and methodically attempted to fill in weaknesses on the 2014 team where possible with an eye on not blocking future potential prospects positions. Kinda one eye at success in 2014 with the other on 2015 if this year's team isn't in the hunt come late July.

  • In reply to Rbirby:

    My guess is the FO very much looks at the season in smaller parts. I do think they see every season as an opportunity to win and if they had the choice they'd rather the Cubs be in this scenario than have more disappointing seasons from their young players.

  • OT, but I have not seen it mentioned: The Caribbean series started Saturday. Less major leaguers than sometimes but good baseball. And... Jon Leicester (same one I think, I barely saw any of the game) won for the DR this afternoon. And Big Z is pitching for Venezuela tonight - and he looks pretty good. The games are on ESPN Deportes "en vivo."

  • In reply to bruno14:

    Jon Leicester. Wow, there is a name I haven't heard in a while. Good for him. The guy flashed potential with the Cubs but was just never able to bring it together consistently. I always like to hear when guys like that are still plugging away trying for one more chance.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    Leicester, i heard he was pretty good before he added the "eic" to his name...... :)

  • In reply to bruno14:

    Thanks for the heads up Bruno.

  • fb_avatar

    A lot of things have to go right for the Cubs to contend. Hell, a lot of things are going to have to go right for the Cubs just to be respectable, but I'm simply looking for progress. I want to see the young players who are already in Chicago get better, and I want to see them joined by young players coming up. I don't need a great leap forward to be happy with the 2014 Cubs. Baby steps will do. If this team improved enough to simply get past the Brewers into 4th place while stilling securing a protected pick in the 2015 draft, that would be progress enough for me.

  • Progress isn't linear....

  • fb_avatar

    It'd be nice, but I'm okay with one more horrific year and decent draft pick before the talent bubbling up through the system makes its presence felt in 2015. When THAT happens, things will pick up in a hurry.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    I have to disagree here. Like I mentioned earlier (and Irwin did as well), a good year from the Cubs has to come from a good season from the core. Another high pick isn't worth a 2nd straight poor season from Rizzo, Castro, plus it likely means that guys like Arrieta and Castillo didn't take a step forward. It also probably means they didn't find any additonal core players from the minors.

    A high draft pick has indirect negative consequences to the present group.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    Where I would disagree is that good years from Rizzo and Castro would contribute all that much unless you get surprisingly good years from all of the outfielders (including a repeat performance from Schierholtz) AND Mike Olt takes third base an runs with it.

    Shark is likely on his way out of town and, after that, the rotation gets decidedly mediocre. The bullpen, definitely better, will be overworked and the strain will start to show.

    I said this with Tanaka: a team is 25 guys. I just don't think, on balance, our 25 guys are better than the 25 guys all the other teams have.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Mike Moody:

    OMG, I'm going to have to agree with Mike on this one. What's this world coming to? LOL

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    I also think that we can have a bounceback year from Castro, a good year from Rizzo, and progress from Castillo and still have a dreadful year.

    We've had one of the worst offenses in the league the past two years and traded several of the players that contributed significantly.

    Castillo certainly didn't have a bad year and Rizzo's wasn't nearly as bad as his BA would initially suggest. There are still massive holes on this team and I think even hoping for 85 wins is just plain silly.

    This is still a build for the future year IMO. Either Baez or Alcantara will be manning 2nd soon, but they're not ready yet so might as well play Barbey, HOPE that he can get back to a 260-ish BA and a 300+ OBP so he has Some tiny amount of trade value. Similarities exist throughout the diamond.

    But to hope they all work out is just denial, I think. We will be bad, and that's cool for just this one last year.

    If I'm holding onto hope I'm certainly not going to hope that a, offense that holds only 2-3 guys we foresee being fixtures for the next 5-7 years has some sort of miracle/statistical abberatio of a season.

    I'd much rather rest my hope in most, if not all, or our young guys have productive, progressive, healthy seasons. And that there's a couple pitchers our FO like that hit free agency to improve our raotation once the year is over.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    I'm trying to offer people a way of looking at the same thing in a different and still plausible way but if you want to stick to traditional linear way of looking at progress, that's up to you.

    I'm not sure waiting around twiddling our thumbs and waiting for saviors to come save the day is the plan. I hope not.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    who says I'm counting on linear progress?

    The team is objectively BAD. If you want to count on Ruggiano hitting 30 HR's, Barney batting .280 and Kottoras matching Navarro's output, that's up to you.
    -OR-
    If you want to assume that Castro hitting .300 and Rizzo hitting .275 while guys like Valbuena and Lake are still regulars will magically conjure 85 wins, that's up to you too.

    I specifically mentioned free agency which I think we could be major players in after this season. But somehow I'm waiting on Savior prospects.

    You can condescendingly suggest we will magically start winning games all you want. Hope is nice, i guess, but realism is overrated.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    What you laid out is a very traditional way of prognosticating. It focuses on last year's record, linear progress, and offseason additions. If that's what you're comfortable with that's fine.

    The article here lays out a plausible scenario that requires none of those outlandish projections you describe. Plausible is not synonymous with "likely" and, in fact, I suggested I would not bet on the Cubs very early on in the article.

    It's a different, creative way to look at the same situation. It's a departure from the everyday predictions we see by every other writer. You can choose to be open to it or not, but it's no reason to get so defensive.

    If you think winning 7 extra games over a total of 95 or 2 extra games a month is unrealistic, then that's your view. I don't think that it's a stretch at all and neither do a lot of people. It happens all the time in baseball.

  • In reply to Giffmo:

    What you laid out is a very traditional way of prognosticating. It focuses on last year's record, linear progress, and offseason additions. If that's what you're comfortable with that's fine.

    The article here lays out a plausible scenario that requires none of those outlandish projections you describe. Plausible is not synonymous with "likely" and, in fact, I suggested I would not bet on the Cubs very early on in the article.

    It's a different, creative way to look at the same situation. It's a departure from the everyday predictions we see by every other writer. You can choose to be open to it or not, but it's no reason to get so defensive.

    If you think winning 7 extra games over a total of 95 or 2 extra games a month is unrealistic, then that's your view. I don't think that it's a stretch at all and neither do a lot of people. It happens all the time in baseball.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    It makes me happy that even John double posts sometimes.

  • In reply to supertecmo:

    LOL :) This system gets all of us in the end.

  • I usually look at the month-by-month standings. The Cubs have gone 8-15 (2012) and 10-16 (2013) the last two years. A good start in 2014 just might give the players a bit of confidence in themselves and their manager.

    And while I'd like to have one more high draft choice, I think it would be much better for the players and the fans if we dispensed with the July yard sale. In 2012, the Cubs winning percentage was .422 through July 31 and .300 thereafter. In 2013, it was .458 and .309.

  • In reply to cubsin:

    Good point. Sometimes that good start can sort of build it's own confidence. Strange things happen when you start to believe.

    As for another high draft pick, personally I'd rather have a winning season, even if it's just 85 games and short of the playoffs. That would likely mean the Cubs had success from their core group, and to me that's more important than moving up 10 spots in the draft.

  • The big move was Ruggiano. He has something left in the tank and is an undervalued asset.

    Lake will most likely continue to surprise, as will the platoon players. Add them up, and you might start getting those much needed wins on the margin.

    Guys like Olt and Val-B, Kotteras (big power) and Castillo, Nate S and Justin R, could put up numbers equivalent to a big time regular with focused play. (or better)

    No reason not to be optimistic until they give us reasons not to be.

    There are guys at every position who could break out.

  • In reply to givejonadollar:

    Agree. I think they can add some wins at the margins with role players. They did lose a good one in Dioner Navarro, so now that I think about it, maybe they have to try and hold serve at catcher too.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Navarro had close to a career year as a part-time player. I don't mean in any way to undervalue his contribution last season,... but to expect him to not regress some is to ignore reality. The offense would have been even sadder last year without his contributions.

    BUT - I would not be shocked to see comparable value to the offense and defense out of Kotteras (lower batting average though) to what we saw out of Navarro. And couple that with a continuation of the Castillo we saw in the 2nd half last season, that's not going to hurt the offense.

  • In reply to drkazmd65:

    True, but look at it this way -- Navarro was a part time player and his contribution, as good as it was, probably contributed less than a win overall. I think a better first half from Welly and a decent job from Kotteras can replace that. I may be optimistic thinking that's a place where they can gain, but I do think they can at least match the production at catcher.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Actually,... that's kind of the way I was looking at it John. Sorry if my meaning was unclear on a first read.

    I don't think we'll see a decrease in value with the Castillo/Korreras combo from what we had last season - and we could see an overall increase quite easily.

    I think that we'll see small, incremental increases at most of the position player slots overall for the year, even when replacing Soriano. Keep in mind that Soriano wasn't having an exceptional offensive year until after he got hot after being traded to the Yanks.

    The biggest concern that I see for a drop-off is after Wood in the rotation. Way too many question marks among the #3/#4/#5 starting pitching options for my liking. Jackson is a serious wild-card - but could rebound nicely from last season's mess. Arietta or Hammel or McDonald or one of the AAA kids could work out just fine at the back end of the rotation,....

    But it is the biggest "if' in my mind.

  • In reply to givejonadollar:

    Ruggiano seems really under the radar. Fangraphs thinks he could be a 20-20 guy if given 500 pa's. Not many people can do that.

  • The cubs in the 1st half were under performing based on a lot indicators.(run differential, Babip, and Woba). I remember this fangraphs article about their surprise power and rotation. Of course the sequence of events were not favorable to the cubs.(Damn you baseball Gods!)http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-2013-cubs-better-than-we-think/

    The 2nd half cubs were pretty lousy. Although, they still projected to be about a 75-76 team based on advanced metrics when the season was over.

    That 1st half team couldn't catch a break, whether it was Svuem sending Marmol and Camp out their to blow the game, really terrible hitting wrisp (some luck involved), and the power coming at the wrong time (sequence of events).

    I guess it wouldn't surprise me to see this team have a better record despite the small moves. Also, Hammel and Ruggiano have the potential to surprise (high 3 era, 20 hrs). Castro, Rizzo, and Jackson were under preforming too.

  • In reply to Mitchener:

    That was a great article and I refer to it from time to time. The Cubs had horrific sequencing last season -- probably the worst case scenario. That alone has to get better.

  • Very good analysis John, makes sense... Sadly, for some reason I don't feel that optimistic... But like all fans, the main factor is uncertainty... Hoping for rebound seasons by Castro, Samardzija, Rizzo and Edwin Jackson, as well as the prospects stepping up... Plus we don't know what to expect from Hammel or Arrieta... But none of that is impossible, it's actually quite possible, hopefully Renteria and his staff are the right match for this to happen.

  • In reply to Caps:

    Thanks. I can still understand the lack of optimism. I wouldn't bet on the Cubs contending because it's almost certainly going to be a losing bet, but I can envision a somewhat realistic scenario where the season gets interesting. And if that happens, everybody is going to want to thank Rick Renteria (and probably Bill Mueller) for helping this core to perform.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Agreed!

  • fb_avatar

    I'm not sure we have a fire sale left in us, because everything worth selling has been sold. All we have left that will net any sort of meaningful return are Samardzija and Schierholtz (unless you want to throw T Wood on the table, meaning you've just dug yourself a deeper hole). EJax is a salary dump candidate, you've just finally maybe built a decent bullpen you don't want to break up, and can you really expect any kind of worthwhile return for anyone else on the roster? Anyone? Beuhler?

    The question I can't answer for myself is, which half of this season will be better (or at least less sickness-inducing) - the first half, when we still have Shark and Schierholtz and the team has some semblance of motivation to win, or the second half when we should see Baez, Alcantara, possibly Hendricks and maybe maybe Bryant?

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to SKMD:

    anyone else on the roster besides your present core of castro, rizzo and welly I mean, that you'd jetison.

  • In reply to SKMD:

    Very true. Like you, I imagine Samardzija might be a candidate if the Cubs lose. Maybe Edwin Jackson. Nobody else would provide a ton of value, though.

  • fb_avatar

    I just don't see it. But as you said, it's not impossible.

    Even in a best case scenario, I don't see any way the players you mentioned will be 7 wins better than they were last year (that would put them on pace to be 12-13 wins better over the full season).

    I think any "improvement" is going to have to come from luck, or winning a disproportionally large share of close games.

  • In reply to Jason Pellettiere:

    Considering Castro was replacement level, Barney was below it and the bullpen was also a negative until sometime after Gregg arrived, I don't think it's that difficult to pick up an extra few wins from that group alone.

    I think it's underestimated just how many things went wrong for the Cubs early on -- especially in the first month or so. Even after the May 5th date I spoke of, they went .500 from there until game 95. They were even up to 42-40 from May until the end of July --- even with those bad years from Castro, Rizzo, etc. Then there was the sell-off.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    I could definitely see a few extra wins, I just don't see 7. And yes, I agree that pretty much everything that could go wrong, did go wrong early on for the Cubs last season, but I think you can attribute at least some of it to bad luck.

    If absolutely everything goes right for the Cubs in 2014 -- they get lucky, Rizzo/Castro bounceback, Samardzija improves some, etc. -- I could see a wild card push.

    But I sure we could have added a few more wins on 1- of 2-year deals to make it slightly more likely.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Jason Pellettiere:

    Logi cally, you are correct. but if we look at games individually, I think Sveum and the bullpen blew at least seven games in April/May. Now, nobody wins them all anyway, and even Mo Rivera blows a save every now and then, but using the arbitrary seven as our baseline, if they win four or five of those seven give-aways, it still makes things a whole lot more interesting around the break and deadline.

  • New manager could be worth a few more wins as well.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Craig:

    Compared to Sveum, having no manager at all would be worth a few more wins. Having a competent manager would be something we haven't seen in a while.

  • In reply to Mike Partipilo:

    He was actually a negative when compared to Pythagorean, so definitely true. Some of that wasn't his fault, but he definitely deserves some of that blame. I think the regression of Castro, Barney, and Rizzo were his biggest failures. I think the Cubs would have been better off without Sveum in part because maybe those guys wouldnt' have taken a step backward.

  • Looked at the schedule to start the year and it's certainly not an easy one. Of the first 10 series, I think only 2 (Brewers and Phillies) will be against teams that will finish the year below .500. Reds (2x), Pirates (2x), Cards (2x), Yankees and Dbacks are the other series.

  • In reply to TulaneCubs:

    wasn't easy last year either. Two extra wins in the first month will put them on pace. I'm not going to assume they'll start off worse than 11-20 based on the schedule alone. That's just one factor.

  • I like the way you're thinking John and can certainly see the Cubs picking up 7 wins... but everything has to go right and severe regression by any group of players will torpedo any hope for 50 wins by the ASB. With the additions of Veras, Wright, Strop in the pen two win Improvement is quite conceivable. Add in a win improvement each for rebounds by Castro, Rizzo, & Barney and that puts them @ 48 wins. Whether the new coaching staff, the SP, or Ruggs/Lake can produce the extra victories remains to be seen. From my perspective, this looks like a 74 win team... unless they get to 50 wins like John suggests.

  • In reply to Paulson:

    True. It's a fragile situation. Key players have to stay healthy and they can't have an unexpected large regression or regressions as happened last season. As I said, it's not something you'd bet the house on.

    At the same time, I'm also not asking these guys to have career years. Just go back to what they are capable of. That's what makes it plausible -- maybe not likely, but certainly plausible.

  • Really great piece, John. I think they can get there. Another thing that happens in the off-season is guys are out there getting better.

    This will sound cheesy but it happened a couple of weeks ago. I had a dream that I was at my birthday party (July 28) and found out we traded for Price. Really hoping we're in a spot to add and I think they will if they're competitive. Like your Cargo idea! Cliff Lee may be a sleeper to watch as well.

  • In reply to Ben20:

    Thanks Ben.

    I don't know about Price, the Rays are tough to deal with and he'll be tough to sign even if they do get him -- but he'd be a great add if they can do it without giving up too much.

  • In reply to Ben20:

    Thank you Ben.

    I don't know about Price, Rays always ask for a ton and he's going to be even harder to sign than Samardzija, but if they can somehow make it work then I'm game.

  • Great piece John,
    Now I know we can't expect to win each and every game we play and yes I know that on paper we are not considered that good. But guess what I don't care.
    Since baseball isn't played on paper but on dirt and grass and since all kinds of odd things can happen out there. A bad hop here and a bad hop there. A couple of lucky breaks. Heck I'll even take a blown call or two. Well with that kind of stuff happening anyone can be a winner.
    I'll go out on a limb here and go ahead and make my prediction for the year.
    Cub's get the second WC in the NL and win their first round.
    How's that for Kool-Aid drinking.

  • In reply to carolinacub:

    Thanks Carolina. I like it. You may be more optimistic than me :)

    Definitely agree with what you're saying. On paper the Cubs are going to be bad but history has shown that it's not that easy to predict what happens in any given season. I'm taking this a month at a time and see what happens. Of course, last year it only took a month before the Cubs were out of it, so a good start is essential.

  • I think the absence of Lillibridge is good for one win. From the stats at baseball-reference, I think I'm right.

  • In reply to Richard Beckman:

    LOL! I should have factored that in.

  • In reply to Richard Beckman:

    Yep, I remember opening day at Wrigley with Jackson on the mound. He get's the first 2 outs then ends up with bases loaded. A ground ball just out of the range of Lillibridge, one Barney get's with ease, get's past him and all hell breaks lose.

  • John, LOVE this piece. Has it ever been figured out a +/- WAR for Managers. Some seasons they make all the right calls then 2 seasons later the same ones are out of a job. An in depth study of what managers do to cost or win games would be very interesting. I only pray that the Cubs got this one right.

  • In reply to Lee Smith HOF:

    Thanks Lee. There's no perfect way of measuring managing performance,. but if you look up at the Baseball Reference site, you'll see the team's record and something called a Pythagorean Record. The latter is what the teams' record should have been based strictly on statistics. You can see that the Cubs underfperformed by 5 games last year. That may not all be on Sveum. Sometimes it's just bad luck, but it's hard not to think that he was at least partly to blame.

  • This is a great article. I can really see where you are coming from and headed with this. During the message, I was like yeah but we lost Soriano and he had abunch of 'key' hits before the all-star break. However, I really feel like if we can get Olt up here by May, I wonder if he will go to AAA just for clock issues. I really think that would allow Barney to see if he is going to make it or not, then a Valbuena/Olt/Murphy/Barney combination could prove to be valuable.

    The biggest difference in this team and last years will be the bullpen. I can't really speak for after the all-star break, but it just seemed in april and may we would consistently had 3 run leads to that bullpen to just walk in runs late. I mean Marmol era was 7ish after he was 'okay' for a week or two

  • In reply to waitingOn2015:

    Thanks. And agreed on April. That month was brutal. The Cubs were out of this thing by May 5th last year and the bullpen was a huge factor in that.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    I am mr. pessimistic on alot of projections and regressions, but there is no way our bullpen isn't better than last year. We just have alot more options than anything....no more signing guys off the street this year

  • Yay! System is back up. Looks like comments are coming through as normal again.

  • Thanks John, this was a great article. I definitely like your optimism and your analysis on how 7 additional wins could be a realistic goal. I believe that our new coaching staff will add at least 3 of those 7 wins, because Renteria will be a significant upgrade over Sveum and Bill Mueller will be able to help all of our offensively challenged players improve. If they can improve our offense by about 1/2 run per game and our significantly better bullpen can also improve by about 1/2 run per game, then we should win at least 7 more games before the All Star break.

  • In reply to CubsFan4Life:

    Thanks. It's going to take a contribution all down the line. We're not asking a lot of any one player, but everybody needs to pitch in to make this happen.

  • fb_avatar

    Thank you John. It is nice to see an article that isn't all gloom and doom and 2014 is a throw away year. 2014 could be tough as you noted, however, this team has potential and some of the biggest holes in this team could be filled by future stars. If it all comes together, this could be the year we see the battleship turn.

  • In reply to MightyBear:

    You're welcome. I am all for the rebuilding, but I am like a lot of fans in that I don't like to throw away seasons. I'd rather win 85 games with significant progress from the core over punting to get another high draft pick. Now, if it gets to July and the Cubs are well below .500 again, that's a different story. But we can worry about things like draft picks later. Every year should be about trying to win regardless of the record the year before.

  • John, I like the way you've broken all this down. I can certainly see where those 7 extra wins by the break are "doable". I'm curious what everyone thinks we'll do, if that is the case. We have a plethora of OF'ers at AAA that will be ready for a taste of MLB by Sept. Plus 2 core players in Soler/Bryant that may need a look. That doesn't account for anyone breaking out ala Jr Lake last year.

    I could see where we may be both sellers and buyers at the deadline. We will have some assets which may be easily replaced internally (Nate/Sweeney/Ruggiano/Valbuena/Barney, etc) and will likely only deal "prospects" for core players...

    I think ideally, we still move non core assets for prospects, see development & growth out of youngsters & core, and maybe acquire another core piece or two... We may or may not have a protected pick, and I don't think it matters much.... I don't think we'll be acquiring s/t pieces to make a run in 2014 unless we are convinced we can extend them and include them in the 2015-2017 core...

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I think they could still sell, but it would be more like the Feldman deal and less like the Maholm/Dempster deals in that they'd attempt to get immediate help with more long term implications.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    I agree, particularly since we have less to trade this year. No #2 or #3-ish starter in the final year before FA like Garza or Dempster. Shark would bring alot back, but that's about it.

    Everyone else that is approaching FA or tradeable is very much a spare part (Nate S, Barney, Hammel, a reliever). At most, we'll get low-level prospects or flawed young players. Our expectations should be tempered.

  • For what it's worth, Fangraphs projects the Cubs to to post a total team WAR of 27.5, which would make the Cubs an approximately 75 win team. Big improvement over last year, but still a non-contender and probably not good enough to avoid another July sell off. They'd need to add 10 wins to hit the bottom of John's window for contention, and I don't see it.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Eddie:

    I think this is the important point. If we're on target for 75 wins, we probably won't get there because Shark will be gone, Veras will be gone, Schierholtz will likely be gone, even a good chance Russell, Wright, and EJax have moved on. When you remove that talent for the second half, it will get ugly, again.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Mike Moody:

    Well said, and agreed.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    That's still a nice improvement -- and probably the more likely outcome. There's a big difference between 75 and 85, though. The former necessitates another sell-off.

    Of course, a sell-off depends on how many of those wins come before the break. For me, you have to project the Cubs for the first 90-100 games because the course changes depending on what happens there.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    The size of the dropoff after the selloff depends on which guys are performing. If Shark and maybe EJax are pitching well, I don't see why we would trade them. Hammel, Veras, Schierholtz, and Russell I get. But if we did trade those guys I don't see a huge dropoff to what we would be replacing them with because its not like those guys are much better than replacement level guys anyway.

  • In reply to mjvz:

    That's true. Projections models are nice overall views but full-season snapshots miss the fluid dynamics of each season. In reality baseball seasons are determined in smaller chunks.

    I think it's seductive to think we can see that far into the future but ultimately it's folly. We see it every year in baseball and people are still surprised when it happens.

    I think we'll have to see how the season develops. Circumstances will determine their course of action as it goes, but I'm not making assumptions about what the front office will do in July. Even the front office hasn't decided that yet -- and I'm fairly certain they'd be thrilled to avoid a July sell-off because that would imply important progress this season.

  • Tried posting this earlier, but PECOTA projects the Cubs with 71 wins

  • In reply to Ike03:

    PECOTA is one of the least optimistic. Mauricio will have something on that later tonight.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to John Arguello:

    Pythagoras says we should have won 71 games last year....so PECOTA is predicting no improvement at all

  • In reply to Zonk:

    Good point. That makes it even less optimistic!

  • One of my hopes for 2014 is that Samardzjida grabs TOR status and gets and extention. He is good enough and 'horse' enough to do it.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    I lean toward the side of wanting to keep Samardzija as well, but that partly depends on his willingness to sign and the progress of the team.

  • fb_avatar

    I always think of seasons like Cubsin was saying. On a month by month basis. Does a team have a winning month or losing month. If a team has a 4-2 record 4 winning months 2 losing they tend to make the playoffs. 3-3 tend to be around .500. Of course lately the Cubs have been going 1-5 or even 0-6. Of course not all 4-2 teams make the playoffs. The Pirates two years back being an example and the 77 Cubs. But that takes a huge collapse.

  • Great column as always. I think .500 is where the cubs need to be this season. There was a reason for the break down and the high draft choices. But when you look at the cardinals as you did in the previous posting, they have been getting quality out of the draft with their picks in the 20's . That to me means, development of talent into skills is crucial and can take talent to the right level with coachability. They also have had more compensatory picks to add value. (Next step for Cubs - develop enough depth to allow good players to walk)

  • In reply to Gator:

    They have to start showing that player development works at all levels. The FO is showing they can build a system. So there is a need for that system to produce at the big league level - development of the core that is in place now.

  • fb_avatar

    In ex-Cub news, Jeff Baker gets a 2-year, $3.8 mil deal? Wow. Good for him.

    He's basically the same player we gave away for free a couple years back.....mashes LHP, doesn't do anything else particularly well

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Zonk:

    That's about it, Zonk. Good RH PH bat off the bench, but he's such a bad fielder, he'd be able to find a way to make errors and misplay balls as a DH. No range, no arm and he fields like he's wearing oven mitts on both hands.

  • Was just trying to type out an opening day lineup and threw up on my keyboard....this team is really going to struggle to score runs. Have to hope Baez and Alcantara start off on a tear and maybe they can make it up by mid-summer.

    Is there a certain date the Cubs may hold guys back until for arb clock/super two status?

  • John,

    I think your article is both optimistic, realistic, anc]d current.

    I was wondering how our closer's ups and downs could affect your 50 win projection. Maybe you could comment last year closer info, vs your projection for this year????

  • In reply to rakmessiah:

    Thanks. I'm always amazed at how some see optimistic and realistic as opposites. You can be both.

    I think a closer's impact is hard to measure. They pitch so few innings but they can almost single-handedly lose games. And there is something about losing that way that can wear on you as a team. I think the save statistic is vastly overrated but the ability to pitch well in high leverage situations is vital. If the Cubs can improve on that alone then I think we'll see improvement.

  • I cannot get over the feeling that the record at the break will have little impact on the moves the front office makes. Seems like either way they are going to trade a couple of non-core players for future prospects (no matter how dim) so the knocking at the door prospects can come up.

  • In reply to Richard Beckman:

    Whyy wouldn't their record have an impact? The Cubs aren't going to give up an opportunity to contend if it comes. There is no question in my mind about that.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    The best way to improve contention without screwing with the future will be to bring the future up (this assumes the future is ready.)

  • John- love the article. I think the poor quality of the bullpen last year, is even beyond the blown leads/ saves, or statistics. Running out Russell everyday and consistently trouting out Marmol in the hopes of building his trade value. I remember thinking that was a easy way to gain losses n not hurt the overall club, bc the bullpen is one of if not the easiest areas to fix. So, IMO a good pen could easily add 7 wins.
    I also think that the real X-factor for this team is competiveness... This is a gruleing job, unlike any other sport. And these players are humans just like us, and there is something to be said about coming to work and ur company is throwing in the towel just a month or so in. Or even before the season, important people are saying we don't expect to compete this year. Yes they make millions and are professionals but that will never duplicate what a competitive team will feel. I could go on and on, but to me if this team can start off hot it will do wonders, imo

  • It'd be nice if Javier Baez came up and had an impact like Wil myers did last year.

Leave a comment