Who's Coming North with the Cubs in 2013?

Who's Coming North with the Cubs in 2013?
Let's travel into The FUTURE, to far away April 2013

It's depressing that there are legal adults who ain't gotta clue about phone booths and their original purpose.  If you see one, now, chances are it has been converted into a time machine.  There's one sitting next to a closed gas-station in the next town over, and I stepped in.  Well, ok, I squoze my fat ass inside and managed to manuever to get the folding door shut.  For you kids, fully intact phone booths have old school wall phones with coin slots in them, because we used to make people pay to make calls when they were out.  Most booths don't have the phones anymore, probably got yanked out by a wino to sell as scrap for MD 20/20.  But if it has one?  Yup, time machine.   Back then, you could use quarters, nickels and/or dimes.  Then you got to make a phone call, usually to ask your mom to come pick you up even though it was only a six-block walk home.  Now, they only take them weird Susan B. Anthony octagon coins and you can't even make a call or a text.  But you can travel in time, forwards or back.  So when should I go to? 

Since this baseball season has been so sucktacular, my first thought was to go to whatever year the Cubs were going to be good again.  But I couldn't really figure that out, would it be 2014, 2015, 2017?  Besides, I was wearing cargo shorts and New Balance running shoes, and I dunno....if I went too far into the future, maybe only pedos would be wearing cargo shorts and running shoes.  Don't want to get shot at.  Let's just go to next spring.  I am really interested in who the Cubs start next year with on their Opening Day roster.

Of course, next year, the four poster boys on the media guide are SS Starlin Castro, 2B Darwin Barney, 1B Anthony Rizzo, and P Jeff Samardzija.  We also find C Welington Castillo and RF David DeJesus in the Opening day starting lineup.  That's six. What about LF, CF and 3B? 

Well, we find a somewhat familiar face in the lineup at third: Luis Valbuena, batting left-handed against Pirates Opening Day starter A. J. Burnett.  Without knowing anything about what management is thinking, I'm hoping Valbuena is on the roster as a utility man, not as the everyday 3B.  He seems to do better off the bench, and although skipper Dale Sveum can't believe he's "only hitting .210" because he seems (to him) to be doing much more, to the rest of us, we realize several games can go by without Valbuena getting a hit.  Unlike some ballplayers, the guy seems to act the same, good days or bad.  Maybe that's his secret survival strategy.  It seems to work, at least on Sveum.  This is one of my few gripes with our manager; he has fallen in love with certain guys like Valbuena, reliever Shawn Camp and jack-of-n0-trades Joe Mather. 

I learn that over the winter, Jed Hoyer sent Sveum away to a rehabilitation facility, to try to wean him off of his dependence of Valbuena, Camp and Mather.  Several days into the therapy, the staff informed Hoyer that "the force is strong in this one" and that they only felt comfortable in breaking his dependence on only one of his 'crutches'.  Quickly it is decided to break the grip of Mather.  Along with Valbuena, Camp is still around, looking as dumpy and unathletic in his uniform as ever.

I try to look on the bright side: if Valbuena is out there, this must mean we also have a right-handed third baseman.  Which means, by necessity, it isn't Ian Stewart, who made very few friends by insisting on rehabbing his wrist away from the team in 2012.  Instead we see 38-year-old Placido Polanco bundled up on the bench, signed to a smallish free-agent contract.  Theo Epstein brings him in with hopes of his having a great first half and becoming trade bait at the deadline, as well as providing some needed mentoring to the young roster.

What about Alfonso Soriano?  Well, he's doing his mentoring in Tampa Bay this year, which is a great place for a guy whose true age is probably around 50.  The Rays have a rapidly closing window on their outstanding pitching staff, so they decide to go for broke and take on Sori.  Tom Ricketts pays most of the frieght, of course.  The Rays even send along a decent Class A prospect, and we have a wide open outfield. 

For Opening Day 2013, that includes the weakest hitting left fielder in perhaps MLB history, Mr. Tony Campana.  With the Cubs' power prospects being two years away, and the bulk of off-season free-agent money being spent on mid-level starting pitchers coming off of sub-par years, the starting nod for LF goes to the speedy but extremely light-hitting Campana, who did participate in winter ball as per the wishes of management. 

CF goes to Brett Jackson, who follows his disappointing 2012 call-up with another sensational spring against a lot of guys who will be selling cars after March.  Even though his strikeout rates were astronomical in 2012, he is the best fielding center fielder we've had in many years, and no question, he is The Project for 2013.  It is imperative to future plans that he learn the strike zone and become Jim Edmonds V2.0, only maybe without the unnecessary diving.  There is no Josh Vitters to be found, though.

Bryan LaHair is non-tendered, and he is able to leverage his All-Star berth into a large Japanese contract.  On the bench we have some ex-Brewers, former Cub-killer Bill Hall, ex-Cub non-prospect Casey McGehee, and catcher George Kottaras, all obtained by minor league deals and making the club at camp. Sveum figures if he is going to lose, and keep spots warm, he might as well have some guys he can trust.  Dave Sappelt rounds out the position players on the roster.

Now, pitching is where most of the offseason efforts were devoted to.  Besides the Shark and Camp, you'll recognize James Russell, Jaye Chapman, Jeff Beliveau and Carlos Marmol.  Matt Garza is eager to cut loose after missing a good part of last season to a "stress reaction".  Travis Wood wins a three-way competition for fifth starter, with also-rans Chris Volstad being DFA'd and Chris Rusin going to the pen.  Free agent reliever Juan Carlos Olviedo (aka Leo Nunez) rounds out the 2013 Opening Day pen.

The third and fourth starters are brought in as what has been called all winter "Maholm Specials".  The 3rd starter is former Twin Scott Baker, followed by ex-Pirate Kevin Correia.  With an average annual salary of nearly $9MM, it is hoped that the over-30 Garza, Baker, and Correia can endure the poor spring weather and the even worse Cub offense to post decent ERAs and attract trade interest from contenders come July.  After that, it is hoped that last year's return for Maholm, Arodys Vizcaino, will be fully mended from his 2012 surgery and can step right into the rotation, along with possibly Trey McNutt.  Perhaps Marmol can be flipped, allowing Alberto Cabrera to take over as Closer.

Looking into the future is human nature - it is a key component of hope, which is the nectar that gets us through the trying times.  What I see for next year isn't the least bit sexy, but from the 2-person core we started with this year, we can envision that core numbering 6 by Opening Day, and by the trading deadline becoming a 9-person core.  From there, all of our highest-ranked prospects (Baez, Almora, Soler, Villanueva, Maples) will be ready to compete in Mesa 2014 for spots.  At that point, nearly all the bad Hendry money will be off the books, and Theo can judiciously acquire free agent talent for keeps, not just for rent. 

By then, we can take off the band-aids.  The bleeding will stop, the wound will heal.  We will be able to cheer again.

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