In 2009, I decided to get a feel for other teams around baseball by asking bloggers for those teams some questions about their squad. Not only has this series been very popular, but it spawned the Baseball Bloggers Alliance. With camps opening up again and spring training getting into gear, it's time once again to play a little pepper.
71-91, fifth in the NL Central
Ah, the Cubs. We all know the jokes. Completely Useless By September. "What did Jesus say to the Cubs? Don't do anything until I get back." As Cardinal fans, we've reveled in them and the fact that the postseason hasn't been kind to those from the north side of Chicago recently. (And by recently, we pretty much encompass the last century.)
Times may be a-changin' where the ivy grows, however. Theo Epstein is now in charge and if there's a man that's proven he can break a curse, it's him. While he has still plenty of work to do, there's a little spirit of optimism among Cub fans and maybe, for once, it's justified.
There are not too many Cub bloggers that would venture into enemy territory like this site, but I was able to find a couple in Brian Corbin and Rob Harris, who are both members of the BBA. Brian writes the aptly-titled Bullpen Brian and can be found on Twitter, also at bullpenbrian. Rob's work can be found at Blue Batting Helmet and also has a Twitter account, rlincolnharris.
Keep reading to see what they think about their catcher and their closer!
C70: What was your opinion of the team's offseason?
BB: Theo Epstein is arguably the best signing for any club this offseason. And whomever the Cubs lose in compensation to Boston will pale in comparison to the direction and leadership the organization has gained with the brain trust of GM Jed Hoyer, Senior VP and Scouting Director Jason Mcleod and Epstein leading the charge.
BBH: This was an offseason like I haven't seen before. Jim Hendry, the previous GM, seemed to believe that the makings of a contender were perennially in place, and all he had to do was make a minor tweak to put the team over the top. After he was let go, and Theo Epstein was brought in to replace him, a new mentality came in, too. Aramis Ramirez walked away, Carlos Zambrano was shipped to Miami, and Alfonso Soriano, well, we're still waiting for that move to happen. Theo and Jed Hoyer (I've heard them called "Jedstein") are now piloting the plane, and we're all buckled into our seats, excited to reach a new destination.
C70: Geovany Soto has had similar stats the last couple of years, but needed a lot more at bats in 2011 to get there. What do you make of Soto?
BB: It's now or never for big Geo. His off the field embarrassment (marijuana), conditioning problems, and overall lack of consistency with the bat have kept Soto from fulfilling the glowing promise of his Rookie of the Year season in 2008.
That doesn't mean Soto's a total dud behind the plate--he's certainly not. But his inability to become a complete player has reached a head on the North Side. Either Geo figures it out in 2012 or he can expect to play elsewhere next season, or sooner.
BBH: I wish Soto was better than he is. After his Rookie of the Year season back in 2008, Cubs fans could be excused for thinking that this position would be locked down for several years to come. It hasn't worked out that way, though. He seems to produce in even-numbered years, so I'm hoping for big things from him in 2012. To be clear, my disappointment with him is from an offensive standpoint. He's a serviceable backstop, and maybe expecting Piazza-like numbers from him is unrealistic, but his hitting is my main gripe about him.
C70: Carlos Marmol had an off year last year (and Cardinal fans thank him for that late-season wild pitch). Will he be the closer for all of 2012 in your opinion?
BB: Marmol will undoubtedly be the opening day closer. Whether or not he should be is debatable. Despite saving 34 games last season, Carlos blew 10 save opportunities--the most in the league--and posted a whopping 4.01 ERA.
For my money, Marmol is better suited as a setup man. His knack for losing the strike zone, hitting batters and continually setting himself up in late inning jams doesn't fit my idea of an everyday closer.
Perhaps new Cubs manager Dale Sveum feels the same way and goes with a younger guy or Kerry Wood before season's end? I wouldn't be at all surprised if he does. Then again, maybe Marmol returns to his 2010 form saving 38 games with a 2.55 ERA? I don't think anyone really knows what to expect from Carlos.
BBH: I'm going to pretend I have a vote in that and say no. He lost the closer's job last year for a stretch, and his blown saves are going to continue to hamper the team this year. Sean Marshall might have been a serviceable closer, but he was traded away for prospects. I see Marmol as a liability going into this season, but I'd like to be proven wrong about that.
C70: Is there a prospect that will make an impact on the team this season?
BB: I believe two prospects in particular have a chance to positively impact the Cubs season. The first is long time prospect Bryan LaHair, who's expected to be the everyday first baseman. Secondly, is catcher Welington Castillo, who is likely the next man up if Geovany Soto gets off to a slow start offensively.
BBH: Cub fans are excited about Anthony Rizzo, who seems to be a project of Theo's from his days in Boston. Bryan LaHair is the starter at first for now, but the perception is to that Rizzo is waiting in the wings to take over if LaHair can't produce. That might happen this season.
C70: Where will the team finish in their division and what are you most excited about for 2012?
BB: The Cubs would be very fortunate to finish above .500. But the more likely scenario is something in the 73-79-win range.
That said, the excitement level is building behind owner Tom Ricketts' willingness to do whatever necessary to change the franchise for the better. Be it Epstein, the commitment to international scouting or eating a huge contract such as Carlos Zambrano's, the Cubs finally appear headed in the right direction, which is nice for a change!
BBH: I'd settle for second place this season. I don't think they'll win the division, because the Brewers have got a strong team in place, and will take off once Ryan Braun returns from his suspension. The Cubs will be over .500 at the end of the season, and could contend for a wild-card spot, but I think this year is too early for any postseason dreams. Yes, I'm waiting 'til next year already. But just for this season.
My appreciation to Brian and Rob for venturing into the lion's den and giving us good information about the team to the north. It seems more than remotely possible that there are good times for this club just around the bend.
The BBA has, as a secondary aim, the goal of producing year-end
awards in a similar fashion to the Baseball Writers of America. These
awards can be found at the official site in October with links back to the voters,
ensuring transparency and, most likely, the onset of some good baseball