It's Jan. 23, and right now the Cubs' projected 25-man roster is decidedly worse than it was a year ago.
Kosuke Fukudome has been replaced by David DeJesus. DeJesus will likely hit for a higher average, but in terms of his total contribution I don't see DD being a whole lot better than the Fuk, if he's not a downgrade due to injury issues.
Aramis Ramirez has been replaced by Ian Stewart. Even if the kid does have a sensational year, it's hard to see him contributing offensively the way Ramirez had for five or so years.
Carlos Pena has been replaced by Bryan LaHair. LaHair might have some bat in him yet, but Pena is an OPS monster despite his low batting average. And Pena plays tremendous defense at first.
Everything else is the same as it was — Castro and Barney might be better with more MLB experience under their belts (assuming Castro is allowed to play, uggghhhh), and Soto is still in his prime years, while Byrd and Soriano are likely to see their talents decrease due to aging.
Lineup As Of Today:
Bench: Clevenger (because Castillo should play every day), Baker, DeWitt, Reed, ???
On paper, this 2012 pitching staff is probably worse than the 2011 group: whether or not he's bats hit crazy, Carlos Zambrano remains an above-average starting pitcher; Andrew Cashner may be raw, but he's still talented; and Sean Marshall is basically irreplaceable. But the front office has added SP depth, which should prevent the Cubs from automatically losing 15 games like they did last year, when Doug Davis, Ramon Ortiz, and James Russell started so many contests — OK, actually the team lost just 14 of those 15 games. Still, though.
(See above parenthetical note; Mateo's out of options, and Corpas has been around long enough to make AAA'ing him complicated apparently.)
So the team that went 70-77 in games not started by Davis, Ortiz or Russell doesn't appear to have appreciably improved anywhere on the roster so far.
However. Despite all his talk about short- and long-term assets, Theo continues to leave one issue unresolved, and that issue is the role of Matt Garza with this franchise. Today, Garza continues to be an arbitration case away from a one-year, $10 millionish player with the Cubs — and that would be a short-term asset. I realize Theo has thus far been ambivalent about whether or not the team will trade the man, but I still contend that SOMETHING has to be done one way or another. Either he's traded or he's extended, but on Opening Day 2012 Garza can't just be a one-year player.
There are other moves that seem to make too much sense to this roster for them not to happen. For one, the team is clearly OK with eating salary to make the right long-term move, so I really think Soriano will end up *somewhere* else before the beginning of April. I also continue to think the middle infield situation remains muddled; is the starting second baseman also the backup shortstop? How does Theo rank Barney against Baker and DeWitt? With Stewart at 3B, does DeWitt himself need another change of scenery? I think something's yet to happen with our 2B/SS candidates.
But for now, I think everything continues to be held up by one player in particular. Until Garza is traded or extended, I don't see a whole lot else happening to this roster, which is worse than it was a year ago. Joy!
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